Here is a short publisher’s summary:
Inspired by the true story of early-nineteenth-century abolitionist and suffragist Sarah Grimké, Kidd paints a moving portrait of two women inextricably linked by the horrors of slavery. Sarah, daughter of a wealthy South Carolina plantation owner, exhibits an independent spirit and strong belief in the equality of all. Thwarted from her dreams of becoming a lawyer, she struggles throughout life to find an outlet for her convictions. Handful, a slave in the Grimké household, displays a sharp intellect and brave, rebellious disposition. She maintains a compliant exterior, while planning for a brighter future. Told in first person, the chapters alternate between the two main characters’ perspectives, as we follow their unlikely friendship (characterized by both respect and resentment) from childhood to middle age. While their pain and struggle cannot be equated, both women strive to be set free—Sarah from the bonds of patriarchy and Southern bigotry, and Handful from the inhuman bonds of slavery.
I thought this was a good read, though it lagged about 3/4 of the way in. I found myself rushing through Sarah’s chapters to get to Handful’s story, which I found much more compelling over the course of the entire book. Sarah, on the other hand, had more of an interesting story as a child/teenager. Once she left her family and Handful behind, her story lost some of its spark. Sarah and Handful’s relationship is what brings the reader into the story – once the two girls separate, it is easy to compare the characters, and Sarah just does not even come close to the life and passion Handful brings to each page.
I liked the historical aspects – the Grimke family was very real, and Sarah and her sister Angelina were remarkable women for their time. Handful (a fictional character) has a very compelling storyline with one of my favorite Americans, Denmark Vesey, a free carpenter who tried to organize a slave rebellion. Vesey was a truly remarkable man, and I highly encourage all to read more into his story! I also liked when Sarah’s story began intersecting with abolitionists and early feminists, and the description of Quaker life.
My favorite parts were Handful’s chapters. Her story, and her mother’s story, was so emotional and well thought out. I feel like Kidd really honored the African influence slave culture – there is a lot of discussion into Handful’s family, starting with her great grandma who was brought from Africa to the colonies, and exploring the generational trauma of slavery on each member of her family down to her.
To be honest, I was surprised Sue Monk Kidd was white! I was disappointed, actually, but since I found out after reading and enjoying the book, I won’t let it color my write up. But just so you all know, Sue Monk Kidd is a white lady. Finding this out makes me want to search out historical fiction set in the antebellum South written by people of color.
I gave this 3 stars on goodreads – I did find myself bored with Sarah’s story in the latter half of the book, but overall I really enjoyed it.