*If you are new here, WELCOME! For The Invention of Wings, I provide your book club with a brief summary, a recipe, and discussion questions in that order!
One of my favorite books is The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. If you haven’t read it, it is chock full of friendship, mother-daughter relationships, and Southern flair. And, of course bees. The narrator is also a spit-fire girl who comes of age during the story. It’s one of those feel-good books that you think back on and sigh with happiness. I knew the Sue Monk Kidd wrote The Mermaid Chair shortly after. For some reason, it didn’t appeal to me personally. If you’ve read it, I’d love to know your thoughts.
However, when researching books to feature here. I stumbled upon The Invention of Wings. It was released in 2015, but I had yet to read it. The premise was intriguing. In fact, I’m a sucker for Civil War fiction in the same way some people love WWII fiction.
This is another book by Sue Monk Kidd with a young narrator. Two young narrators actually–Sarah and Handful. They both have unique voices, like Lily from The Secret Life of Bees. You also have the racial discrimination (civil rights vs slavery) and coming-of-age themes. However, that is where the similarity ends.
I’m not sure what I expected, but The Invention of Wings is a very different book from The Secret Life of Bees. And I loved it just as much!
It is fantastic historical fiction steeped with rich details. The novel deals with slavery, but brought to life many new historical details that I had not known about. The story dives deep into the abolitionist movement and covers the Quaker culture.
As Sarah Grimke struggles to find her own voice and to fight for the voices of slaves, including Handful’s, I truly felt the way she wrestled with self-doubt. Her courage to keep fighting, despite that, created such an inspirational journey. If your book club hasn’t read The Invention of Wings, I highly recommend it. If you have, keep reading below for food ideas, book club questions and more!
Here’s a brief summary of The Invention of Wings:
Even from the young age of eleven, Sarah Grimke realizes the evils of slavery. When she is gifted ten-year-old Handful as a handmaid, she immediately requests her freedom. She is staunchly denied her request and, in defiance against her parents and the laws of the time, she decides to free Handful in the only other way she knows—by teaching her to read. That choice sets in motion a thirty-five year journey of friendship, betrayal, separation, and eventually reconciliation between two girls born in the same time, worlds apart. Inspired by the life of abolitionist and women’s rights activitist, Sarah Grimke, Sue Monk Kidd weaves a timeless tale of sisterhood that shouldn’t be missed.
For The Invention of Wings recipe:
One of my favorite scenes in the book is the moment on the rooftop between Sarah and Handful. When they sneak up to the roof with china tea cups and share secrets, I remembered doing the same type of thing with girlhood friends. There’s something about bonding over breaking the rules. A thrill that links you through vulnerability to punishment.
It was definitely a bonding moment for Sarah and Handful and is mentioned in later years during doubt and hardship.
The girls drink hyssop tea and honey. Hyssop tea is a spicy herbal tea made from the hyssop plant.
It was a little hard for me to find hyssop tea, so I actually ended up buying it from Amazon.
While there is no mention of them, I imagine them sneaking a few tea cakes up to the roof as well. Tea cakes are simple cookies made to be eaten with tea that are a Southern staple. In researching the cookies, I found several sites with rich information on the history of tea cakes. I loved what Grandbaby-cakes.com had to say about them.
So, if you’re looking for book club food ideas for The Invention of Wings, here you go.
The Invention of Wings Southern Tea Cakes
- ½ cup butter
- 1 egg
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 ½ cup flour
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- 2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
- Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and nutmeg in a bowl. Set aside.
- In a separate large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy and smooth with a mixer.
- Next, mix the egg and vanilla into the sugar mix.
- Slowly, mix the flour mix into the wet ingredients until well incorporated.
- Knead the dough into a smooth ball and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
- On a floured surface, roll the dough to a thickness of a quarter inch.
- Using a 2 inch cookie cutter, cut the dough into cookies.
- Bake on a lined or greased cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes at 325 degrees.
**If you do not like the taste of nutmeg, it can be eliminated altogether.
***Cookies will be slightly crisp on the outside and soft in the center. If they brown, they will likely be too hard.
The Invention of Wings Book Club Questions:
*WARNING: May contain spoilers!
- This novel was based on real life sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke. Did you know of the sisters before reading? Did you do any extra research about them while reading The Invention of Wings? Share anything you learned.
- In what ways did you agree with the Grimke sisters that women could “do little for the slave as long as we’re under the feet of men”? And in what ways did you agree with Mr. Wright that it threatened “to split the abolition movement in two”? Do you think the movements were different sides of the same coin or altogether separate? Why?
- Sarah Grimke becomes a Quaker largely due to their anti-slavery ideals. She publishes brazen pamphlets against slavery and travels across states to speak against it to large crowds. However, it is only when Handful writes that she’s daring escape that Sarah awakens to the idea of going home to force her mother’s hand in releasing Handful and her sister. Even then, the interaction between Sarah and her mother seems weak. Why do you think that Sarah ignores this direct link to slavery in her life? Do you think she does all she can for Handful? Even though they escape in the end, do you think that Sarah’s part is enough?
- A central theme in the story revolves around finding your voice and refusing to allow others to speak for you. Discuss some of the times that others spoke for Sarah and Handful that infuriated you. Discuss the moments when each found her voice and rose to meet adversity with renewed inner strength.
- Handful tells Sarah, “My body might be a slave, but not my mind. For you, it’s the other way round.” Which do you think is worst? If your body isn’t free, can your mind really be? If your mind isn’t free, can your body really be? Discuss.
- Sarah promises Charlotte to free Handful. After her manumission fails, she decides to accomplish this by teaching Handful to read. In the end, she does free Handful from slavery. We know that Handful’s life would have been limited if she had not escaped slavery, but what if she had escaped slavery without the freedom of knowledge, too?
- Sarah ultimately chooses not to marry Israel Morris, despite loving him very much because she feels he is asking her to choose between him and her vocation. Despite feeling she cannot change his mind, she ultimately goes on to convince many people to change their minds about slavery. Do you think that she could have changed his mind? Why do you think she didn’t try harder?
- Discuss the various ways that Charlotte, Handful, Sarah and Angelina defy oppression. For example, the copper tub, stealing a bullet mold, running away, and writing pamplets. Do you think that there is a “right” way to defy oppression? Do you think that some efforts were more successful than others because they followed the “right” way? Or is any defiance against oppression necessary to collectively move towards change?
- The symbols of birds and wings are used throughout the book. Charlotte and Handful use black triangles to symbolize blackbird wings on quilts. Sarah is told to “Go North.” And, later she says that the Fates made Nina one wing and her the other. Nina the doer and Sarah the thinker—making them whole. What other ways did the author use these symbols throughout the book? How did this symbolism speak to you?
- Did you enjoy the structure and style of the book? Were you glad to hear from both Sarah and Handful? Was there any other character that you wish you could have heard from—Angelina, Charlotte, Denmark, Goodis, etc?
Bonus: In the book, all the slaves have basket names in addition to their proper names. Do you know anyone with a “basket” name? What are some unusual nicknames for people in your life? How do you think they take on the characteristics of that name?
Have you read The Invention of Wings? What did you think? What are some similar Civil War Era novels you’ve read? What is your favorite novel about abolition?
Until next time, Happy Reading!
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