The Invention of Wings – Review – Historical Fiction

The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd

I’ve been a fan of Sue Monk Kidd since I read The Secret Life of Bees. So when Kidd released her newest novel The Invention of Wings, historical fiction set in the early 19th century, I was eager to read. The book did not disappoint.

The Invention of Wings tells the story of 11-year-old Sarah Grimké who is given 10-year-old slave girl – Hetty “Handful” Grimké – as a birthday present. The slave is intended to be Sarah’s handmaid for the rest of her life. But Sarah cannot countenance owning another human being and refuses the gift.

Raised by an educated father with educated brothers, Sarah believes she is capable of speaking her mind and being heard. She is quite wrong. Not only does Sarah suffer a speech impediment, she also suffers from being a woman.

Yet she pushes on, her personality encompassed in this early description of herself: “Drawing a breath, I flung myself across the door sill. That was the artless way I navigated the hurdles of girlhood.” Flinging herself forward in spite of obstacles is also the way Sarah navigates the rest of her life.

Meanwhile, Handful (the basket name given by her mauma) or Hetty (the proper name given by her owners) struggles just as mightily with her personality and her circumstances. Even at 10, Handful knows that the story her mother tells her about their people in Africa learning to fly is not true. Yet she engages in a life-long struggle to achieve just that.

Handful describes her dilemma this way: “I always had something smart to say, but my voice had run down my throat like a kitchen mouse.” A paragraph later she adds, “I stopped all my fidget then. My whole self went down in the hole where my voice was. I tried to do what they said God wanted. Obey, be quiet, be still.”

Obeying, being quiet, being still are not in Handful’s nature, exacerbating the challenges she faces but ultimately giving her the courage she needs for the crucial moment when she does fly.

Women finding their voices – figuratively and literally – is a powerful theme of this wonderful novel. The Grimkés are real people who lived in Charleston. Sarah and her younger sister Angelina grow into fearless pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements. While Handful is a fictional character, the juxtaposition of the two women – one a black slave and the other a free white – makes their journeys to empowerment all the more striking.

It doesn’t matter station. It doesn’t matter time in history. It doesn’t matter black or white. Women always seek to find their voices, to invent their wings.

As a reader, I found The Invention of Wings totally satisfying. Details of time and place that put me right in the center of the action without overburdening. A plot that intertwined the two stories and moved both along. Suspense. Emotion. A conclusion that wove it all together and did not feel contrived.

As a woman who worked in a male-dominated business and who was ordered at one point to “attend the meeting but don’t talk,” I could relate to the “voice” and empowerment issues Sarah and Handful faced.

As a writer, I am inspired by Sue Monk Kidd’s ability to find fresh ways to describe everything from water to clothing. I admire the way she creates voices for each character that are unique.

With The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd solidifies her place in the Top 10 of my all-time favorite authors. Do not miss this one.

Five strategies for getting book reviews

Getting book reviews that would be posted on Amazon and Goodreads at launch was one of the marketing strategies I pursued prior to publishing my novel Go Away Home. In April, I blogged my intent. Now, I’ll share the results.

Iowa City Public Library blogger reviewed Go Away Home

Library blogger reviewed Go Away Home

The bottom line first – Though I didn’t have a specific number of reviews in mind (which makes it pretty hard to fail), I felt really successful to have 48 reviews averaging 4.7 Stars posted on Amazon in the first month Go Away Home was on sale. On Goodreads, I had 40 reviews averaging 4.5 Stars.

Here’s what I did.

Pitched review copies to historical fiction authors and bloggers. I made 39 direct pitches. From those pitches, I received 17 reviews. Several people took review copies but have yet to post reviews. I’m contacting them with gentle follow-ups – Have they had a chance to read? What did they think?

LibraryThing Giveaway. Following the advice in a blog from The Future of Ink, I made 100 e-copies available. Sixty-five readers took copies. So far, 17 have written reviews, a 26% review rate. Reviews were 4 & 5 stars, and readers readily placed the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. A gentle follow-up email resulted in pleasant conversations with several readers as well as immediate reviews.

Three advantages to the LibraryThing contest. 1) I gave e-copies in .pdf, mobi, and e-pub formats so there was no out-of-pocket cost to this contest. 2) LibraryThing provides reader emails, so it’s easy to contact readers directly. 3) From what I’ve read on other blogs, getting 26% to review a book is excellent.

Goodreads Giveaway. I made 20 paperback copies available in a three-week giveaway that attracted 1,874 entrants and caused more than 600 to mark Go Away Home “To Be Read.” So far, 4 of the 20 have written reviews, a 20% review rate. Reviews ranged from 2 to 5 stars. Some reviewers placed reviews on Amazon.

The big advantage of the Goodreads giveaway was getting my book in front of so many readers. The biggest downside of this giveaway was cost of books and mailing. Three copies were won by readers in Canada, where media mail does not apply. Yikes. Plus, since Goodreads does not provide email addresses, it’s not easy to follow up.

Blog Tour. I signed up for a 15-stop blog tour that yielded 7 reviews – 4 & 5 Stars. In addition two other bloggers shared reviews that same month. All were posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Boldly Ask. I’ve been bold in asking people to post reviews. When readers tell me they enjoyed the book, I ask them if they’d be willing to post a review. With little editing, they can usually post what they’ve written in their emails to the review links I provide.

Has all this effort made a difference? I think so – for two reasons:

  • People comment on all the great reviews I’m getting. So I know they’re reading them. Reviews create enthusiasm and encourage buzz.
  • Amazon has promoted Go Away Home several times in direct-mail emails.

Overall, I’m glad I made the effort. There are many ways to generate reviews. What strategies have you found to be successful?

Are you aging like the prairie?

As I walk my prairie this year, I’m struck by how it’s maturing. I was aware that flowers predominate in a newly established prairie while grasses take over in later years. This year, I’m seeing that reality. The contrast between new and mature prairie is clear and dramatic because this spring I let the prairie expand to another section of lawn.

The flashy exuberance of youth.

The flashy exuberance of youth.

The new section is awash in yellow – delicate partridge peas, profuse sweet black-eyed Susans, gangly maxmilian sunflowers, The young plants could hardly wait for me to stop mowing the lawn so they could take over. Their exuberance exciting, the brilliant colors irresistible.

Meanwhile, in the mature prairie, the brilliant flowers of youth have been replaced by graceful fronts of prairie grass. These grasses are strong and tall, able to withstand the winds of summer and winter blizzards. It took longer for grasses to appear in the prairie because they sent down deep roots that nurture them and provide a foundation for the future.

Subtle color in a mature prairie.

Subtle color in a mature prairie.

The mature prairie has not given up on color though you have to look more closely to see it. Mixed in with the grasses are spots of blue and purple: wild bergamot, blue vervain, a few purple coneflowers.

As I move into the second half of my sixth decade, I think how the maturing I see in the prairie is similar to the maturing I see in my own life.

I long ago eschewed the bright colors of the psychedelic 60s for the grays, blues and browns of the business world. These days I’m still more comfortable in muted tones but I augment those muted hues with brighter colors in smaller doses. They brighten my attitude as well as my look.

Though not so flashy, the mature prairie is still capable of surprises and trying something new. This prairie put forth the first butterfly milkweed this year, the orange blossoms a bold statement that though it may take time, it’s never too late to bring out something new.

I felt bold as I ventured into writing and publishing my first novel. Do I say I took this up “late in life”? No. I prefer to say I took up novel writing when the time was right, when my roots were deep and my life experience ready to tackle this new adventure.

Things happen in their own time – in the prairie and in life. The prairie is aging gracefully. I hope to do likewise.

How do you hold on to first-time awe?

My granddaughter started kindergarten this past week. When she told her dad about her first day in school, she could barely contain herself.

  • “Guess what? We played in the gym!”
  • “Guess what? We had music class!”
  • “Guess what? I met new friends!”
  • “Guess what? I ate my lunch there!”

She had a truly awesome, magical first day.

As I thought about the joy and awe with which my granddaughter launched into school, I realized how seldom I feel that sense of magical awe anymore. When you are five, most things in your life are glorious, untarnished firsts. When you are sixty-five, firsts – when I have them – occur in the midst of days crammed with responsibilities and in the context of a lifetime of experiences that tinge awe with reality.

I know I have so many reasons for joy and awe. Yet, often I rush past them, thinking instead and ahead to the next meeting, the calls waiting to be answered, the blogs to be written, the host of responsibilities that crowd every day. As a result, I look past the moments of joy and awe while they’re happening rather than reveling in the moments.

Part of the answer for me, I think, is to be conscious of the need to slow down, to live, to breathe, to take joy in each moment. Then I also need to spend more time celebrating those precious moments.

She lost her first tooth!

She lost her first tooth!

I can learn from my granddaughter. Before school started, she lost her first tooth. She was over the moon. She wanted every picture I took to show she’d lost that tooth. When she visited this weekend, she had a second tooth on the verge of coming out. She is just as excited. We took pictures of the loose tooth, and I know we’ll take more pictures when the tooth is gone.

The launch events last month for my novel Go Away Home were amazing, joyful experiences. I did have to run from event to event, but after the last event, my husband, son and I went out to celebrate. They were so happy for me – I was so happy for me. Celebrating at the moment expanded the joy – and kept me from rushing right into thinking about the next task on the ‘to do’ list.

Holding on to the joy and reveling in the joy, ensure special moments remain special. They allow me to squeeze every drop of pleasure out of those precious moments in my life.

My wish for my granddaughter is to be able to experience that first-day-of-school, first-lost-tooth, first-time awe many, many times in her life.

My wish for me is to remember that there is joy to be experienced if I slow down and absorb it.

 How about you? How do you keep a sense of joy and awe in your life?