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.
Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.
As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.
Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.
This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.
Hardcover, 373 pages
Published January 7th 2014 by Viking Adult
(first published January 1st 2014)
So I am going to be brutally honest with this review, though I always say how I feel about a book, but this time a little different.
First off, I had absolutely no desire to read this book, I didn't even know what it was about before I made that decision. Actually it wasn't a decision that I made because I wouldn't even have given this book a second glance. Why is that you are asking? First off, it's one of Oprah's picks and nothing personal against Oprah, but I've never had much success with her picks in the past. (does Oprah really read these books or does someone get paid to?). Second (and this is going to sound worse), I didn't like the title of The Secret Life of Bees, that book didn't appeal to me just because of the title. Boy that sounds bad (I'm really sorry Sue Monk Kidd).
So why then did I actually purchase a hardcover of this book and devour it in a matter of days? Because my dear friend, Allison wrote this review:
"Absolutely the best read in a long time! This story has had me enthralled from page 1 and when I have been dragged away has been calling me back for more! I even tried to drag it out towards the end but it wouldn't let me, it wanted to tell the story! I've just finished but I am already planning to re-read it! If haven't already - do! It's a must read!"
Allison and I have been friends for years (she lives in Australia and I am in Canada), we both have a love of reading and our tastes are very close when it comes to books (amongst other things). So what could I say, I bought the book.
What did I love about this book?
-it is based on the real lives of Sarah Grimke and her little sister Angelina, I love books based on lesser known women and the impact their lives had on society. It wasn't until I read the author's note at the end when I realized this (I love author notes!).
- the author wrote about Sarah as a young girl with her dreams and ambitions in life. But the 1800's was still not favorable to women and their desires
"The truth is that every girl must have ambition knocked out of her for her own good. You are unusual only in your determination to fight what is inevitable. You resisted and so it came to this, to be broken like a horse."
"...you've fought harder than I imagined, but you must give yourself over to your duty and your fate and make whatever happiness you can."
-Handful was just a young girl with dreams and ambitions herself.
"My body might be a slave, but not my mind. For you, it's the other way round."
-the author created a story that I visualized in my head the whole way through this book. From the spirit tree, the view from the rooftop, the Work House, the quilts and so much more.
-this book flowed smoothly, from the horrific lives of slaves in the 1800's to the bold and active role Sarah and Nina played as they fought for the abolishment of slavery.
-I was sad it ended, not because I didn't like the book (I LOVED IT!) but because I was so invested in the lives of these people that I wanted it to continue and see what was still in store for them.
What didn't I like about this book?
-if I have to say anything it would be the paper used for the dust jacket, it felt weird
So I will end with a super big apology to the author, Sue Monk Kidd. Your writing is absolutely wonderful, and I can't wait to read The Secret Lives of Bees.
Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily's fierce-hearted black "stand-in mother," Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina--a town that holds the secret to her mother's past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna. This is a remarkable novel about divine female power, a story women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.