Families With Issues

The Invention of Wings (2014) by Sue Monk Kidd is a story told in alternating chapters by each woman.  Using this style of writing allows you to really get to know the women, their personalities, and their friendship.  You will become acquainted with Sarah Grimke and Hetty “Handful” Grimke in Charleston, South Carolina as they grow up during the years 1803-1830.

You meet Handful when she is about 8 years old.  She loves listening to her Mauma Charlotte, who is a gifted seamstress tell how people used to fly until they came to America.  Charlotte creates quilts to tell the story of her life.  She uses black fabric triangles to represent the wings of birds.  Both she and Handful collect feathers they find to stuff the quilts.

Handful is perfectly named by her Mauma gave her that name when she was born. Handful was tiny enough to fit in Mauma’s hand.  Handful is just that…a handful to the Missus.  She has a mouth on her, sassy, and does not often back down.  Will take a risk even though she knows the possible consequences.

Sarah is turning 11 when you first meet her.  It is her birthday and she has been given her own room.  With that room she is given Handful as a gift.  Even at her young age Sarah is quite uncomfortable about her family owning slaves.  When offered Handful as a gift, Sarah refuses to accept.  This action angers her mother who begins screaming and terrifies Handful.

Sarah and her father have always had a very close relationship.  He allows Sarah to read books from his library.  After the fuss about being given Handful as a gift, Sarah has an idea that she feels is a perfect solution. She devises a certificate of freedom on legal paper for Handful and leaves it on her father’s desk before she heads to bed.

The next morning, she finds that freedom certificate torn in two on the floor outside her door.  Handful’s morning is not any better when she tries to get a fire going in Sarah’s bedroom.  Her efforts fill the house with smoke and thus lots of confusion.  The Missus hits Handful with her gold tipped cane.  Handful stands up and looked at Missus straight on.  Missus drops her arm and backs off.

Through all this, much more will occur in a little over a year.  Sarah makes a promise to help Handful get free someday.  She has hopes of becoming the first woman jurist in South Carolina.  That idea is immediately shot down by both of her parents.  And so, the tale of these two unlikely friends begins.

Sarah teaches Handful to read and write which is one big no-no, but still a mixed blessing.  With her new reading skill Handful learns she is part of the household inventory.   She takes a peek at Master’s papers on his desk and it is there she finds her slave name Hetty “…right after the water trough, the wheelbarrow, the claw hammer, and the bushel of flint corn.”

With Sarah’s dream of becoming a jurist dissolved, she goes to her mother with another request.  She asks to be named godmother of her newborn sister Angelina.  With this request agreed upon, as the reader you have been introduced to the main characters and ready to start Part 2.

From there the story grows as you keep turning the pages of The Invention of Wings.  Keep in mind this novel is based on some very real people.  Kidd’s notes are quite interesting to read as a follow up.  The details of her research are really worth your time.  If you have ever been to Charleston SC you will surely recognize many of the streets and places mentioned.

In the opening paragraph of Everything I Never Told You (2014) by Celeste Ng, you learn that Lydia is dead.  But her family is completely unaware of the fact.  The morning scene is that of an ordinary family waking up and getting ready for their regular day of work and/or school.  As the morning routine slowly evolves, slowly it begins to dawn of her family that 16-year-old Lydia is not there.

James, Lydia’s father has left for his office at the college where he is an American History professor.  Marilyn calls and asks him to return home.  He arrives back home to find the police there asking questions and explaining that often teens runaway when angry with their parents.  Suggestions are made.  They tell her parents most teens return within 24 hours.

The parents begin to make a list of Lydia’s friends.  Her older brother Nath knows that Lydia is not close friends with any of the girls named on the list.  And that Lydia has no close friends at all.  Unless, next door neighbor Jack Wolff is counted.  Nath does not share any of that information with his family either.

Little sister Hannah also does not share some information that might help.  About 2AM that morning she had seen Lydia walk across their front yard away from the house.  It is because a passerby noticed an empty rowboat floating in the middle of the lake near their home a day later, Lydia’s body is found.

The rest of the story is told in flashbacks going back to 1955.  That is when you learn about the backgrounds of James and Marilyn.  You will get a feeling of just what makes them tick…such as where they went to college, how they met, their plans for the future.  Marilyn had a dream of becoming a doctor.  James, as a son of a Chinese immigrant, never felt like he fit in, even with his degrees from Harvard.  Even on their wedding day, family issues create problems for them.

Neighbors and coworkers become involved with the Lee family members and problems begin to mount up.  Lydia’s parents discover that she was not as well-adjusted as she led them to believe.  As you read along, discovering the family is dysfunctional on many levels should not come as a surprise to you.

Hannah, the youngest of their three children, “born and forgotten”, is even easy to overlook in this novel.  I think that Ng did a wonderful job of hiding her in plain sight throughout the pages.  There is more to young Hannah than appears on the surface.

Nath has always had some issues with the fact his parents gave Lydia so much attention.  He is also aware that Lydia is very insecure.  Being one of two Asian American students in their high school set them both apart.  Nath is not popular but took pride in his school work, especially space exploration.  His acceptance into Harvard was a big deal for him.

Lydia is feeling pressure, especially from her mother, to exceed in her school work.  He dad wants her to be popular, to get out of the house and do things with others.  She starts what appears to be down a road to rebellion when she begins hanging out with Jack, the “bad boy” in school.

Now, after reading this tale of family secrets, you get to decide if Lydia committed suicide, was her death an accident, or was this young girl murdered.


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