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 is my second Sue Monk Kidd, after reading (and loving) the Secret Life of Bees. So I had high hopes for this book. It did let me down, but probably only because of the huge hype I’d given it in my head.
There’s something about slavery related books that draws me in, no matter who the author. I don’t quite know what it is, but I think it might be the fact that I can get whizzed back to the time. Slavery is a horrible, horrible thing, something I’m glad I’ve never had to experience. But it’s something that needs to be talked about, because it’s such a huge part of our history. These books do that perfectly. When you get into the head of someone who was a slave, or even on the opposing side, you’re automatically learning so much about history, whether you want to or not. I’m a nerd, obviously, so I love to learn. This probably makes me a tough critic though, since I’ve read so many books of the same sort of genre. Luckily I loved this one!
When I first started reading, I expected this book to be your typical race-based book. But we were given two points of view, and I honestly think that made all the difference in this. The first POV was from Sarah, a white girl from a rich family. The second was Handful, a black slave who was gifted to Sarah when they were both 11. From there, the two girls made a close friendship. From start to finish, Sarah considers Handful a friend. She fights against slavery, doing all she can to abolish it (with the help of her sister). Whenever Handful is sad, or in trouble, Sarah is instantly worried. She does all she can to give Handful the best life she can, while fighting for her own want to be a lawyer. That’s where the great idea of the second point of view comes in. Handful sees their relationship in a completely different light. She thinks Sarah and her privileged family don’t realise how lucky they are. They abandon her for their own petty things they want. They could fight so much more – saying sorry doesn’t result in anything!
And that’s where you’re forced to make your own opinion. You get such conflicting points of view, it’s hard to know where the truth lies. And I think it’s probably somewhere in the middle. Sarah is doing her best; it’s just that no matter how hard she tries, she can never come close to comprehending how hard the life of a slave is.
Other than the double point of view, there wasn’t anything that made this leap out to me particularly. Don’t get me wrong, I did like it. It’s just not something I’ll be adding to my favourites any time soon