Audiobook review: The Invention of Wings

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“The world depends upon that small beating in your heart.”  written by Angelina Grimke to her sister, Sarah.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd was graciously sent to us by Viking Press, was chosen by our Wink 3 book club for its March book club read and recently reviewed by Jackie here at the Literary Hoarders. When it was my turn to read, I scoured all sources for the audiobook version as I had heard it was an excellent narration. Finally, after an exhaustive search, I ended up purchasing it as an Audible download. I can only assure you it was money extremely well spent.

If you haven’t read the synopsis of what The Invention of Wings holds for the reader, I will add a brief one here, taken from Audible:

From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees, a magnificent novel about two unforgettable American women. Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world. Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Written using two distinct perspectives of two formidable girls/women, one a wealthy southern girl in a family of slave-holders from Charleston, and the other, the slave girl that was gifted to the her on her 11th birthday. These two distinct voices are incredibly narrated. It truly turns this excellent book into an amazing one.

Hetty, “Handful” and Sarah Grimke are two women in two vastly different circumstances but both yearning for freedom from their individual circumstances. Of course, Sarah has far more freedom to act upon her ambition, but still finds herself enslaved by her sex, social position and expectation. Handful and her mother Charlotte, have spent a lifetime in slavery. The realization and understanding of this and of their lives spent in often cruel and heartless conditions comes through tremendously in Monk Kidd’s tale. It is also considerably helped along by the fantastic narration of the two audiobook narrators.

Both mother and daughter yearn for freedom, fueled by Charlotte’s fierce will and determination. (Charlotte’s determination makes for some extremely uncomfortable and wince-worthy moments in the story.) As Handful grows, her fate becomes realized through her very and ever watchful eyes and great maturity. In the end, Handful spends well over 30 years in slavery. 30 plus years. A lifetime.

Sarah is a fierce young woman in her own right, very knowledgeable and aware from an extremely young age with a determined certainty of following in the footsteps of her father and brother. She is deeply shamed when they laugh off her law school ambitions and remind her of her gender and inabilities because of it. She abhors slavery and develops a speech impediment at the age of four, that follows her well into her adult life, after witnessing the whipping of one of the house slaves. Her sister Angelina (Nina) also has frequent nightmares and carries a great fear around with her after hearing the tortured sounds coming from the “workhouse” (a place where torture and beatings of the slaves took place). Sarah will go against every convention of her Charleston life and expectation and will travel to the North where she will become a Quaker. Shunned from the South she goes on, with her sister Angelina to become renowned abolitionists and crusaders for women’s rights.

As each chapter alternates, we journey through Handful’s life and experiences through her eyes and Sarah’s life and experiences through hers. Their friendship matures and grows as the years go by and Sarah never loses her determination to maintain that promise she made to Charlotte – to get Handful free. The ending is a bittersweet one and the afterword by Sue Monk Kidd is as wonderful as the story she created for Sarah and Handful (and Angelina). The threads of fact with fiction are written using lovely prose and is made all the more astonishing and excellent due to the audiobook narration.

Again, I cannot say enough about how amazing the narration by Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye is. The descriptions, the details, the heartbreak and severity of some parts comes through with far greater power and emotion as read by Lamia and Oduye. The voice of Sarah was one that I will never forget – imagine a young girl from Charleston, South Carolina in the 1800s – that is precisely how Lamia narrates her voice. It was phenomenal! She even speaks with the stutter and stammer that plagues Sarah. Again, it was amazing. It is one that definitely earns the 4.5 rating: where it makes the book much better and one where I highly recommend experiencing in audio over reading the hard copy.

Throughout Handful’s story, she talks of her mother’s “story quilt”. Handful sews the pieces of her mother’s quilt together that tell her whole life story: one of a woman bound forever in slavery. It was a beautiful and heartbreaking part to her story. I later looked up “slave story quilts” and the one that appeared in every search, was this one attached below by Harriet Powers. (I also now realized that it is the same quilt that appears in Jackie’s review. ;-) ) Harriet Powers was born a slave and lived in slavery with her parents, in Athens, Georgia. Her work is displayed in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. I was there, I was in that section of the museum, and now wish I could go back to spend more time there to see her quilts.


The Invention of Wings will leave a lasting impression on you for certain. They are people I cannot shake for certain. My enjoyment of this story was definitely enhanced by the audiobook, those perfect voices really added to the story and I’m certain had me enjoying it over those that read the hard copy version.

Literary Hoarders Penny rev       LH Seal