The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd
Sarah Grimké is shocked when she is given a slave for her 11th birthday. Hetty, or Handful, age 10, must leave her mother Charlotte, a seamstress, to sleep by Sarah’s door in case she is needed during the night. Sarah, though she often stutters, dreams of being a lawyer like her brother, unheard of for a girl from a wealthy family in Charleston, South Carolina. When Sarah teaches Handful to read, both girls are punished. Handful is fascinated by her mother’s story quilt and worries about her association with a former slave. Handful’s spirit stays strong, while Sarah and her younger sister Angelina struggle to make their voices heard. I thought Handful was a very interesting and memorable character, and wanted her to be safe and find a way to become free. A very readable novel, with well-researched insights on Quakers, abolitionists, and the lives of women in the pre-civil war South.
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
Honor Bright travels from England to Ohio in 1850 with her sister Grace. Grace is engaged to marry Adam Cox, a dry-goods merchant from their hometown and a fellow Quaker. After an arduous journey where Honor is constantly seasick, Grace dies suddenly just before they reach Faithwell, Ohio. Honor is befriended by Belle, an outspoken milliner, who has Honor help sew bonnets. When she reaches Faithwell, Honor must depend on the kindness of strangers, and is very lonely. Even Quaker meeting feels different in Ohio, and her sewing and quilting skills are not as valuable, as applique quilts are preferred to elaborate patchwork. Honor must marry and learn new skills, and finds herself caught up in the Underground Railroad, helping runaway slaves traveling north. Ultimately, Honor must decide what is more important; her principles or her new family.
Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill
Aminata Diallo lives with her parents in Bayo, a village in what will become Mali. Her father is a jeweler and owns the only book in the village, a Qur’an. Her mother is a midwife and takes Aminata with her to deliveries in nearby villages and teaches her to assist. One day, when Aminata is 11, they are abducted, and Aminata finds herself forced to walk for three months to the sea. Few children in the 1750s survive the Middle Passage to the American colonies and slavery, but Aminata, now Meena, does, and lives on an indigo plantation near the coast of South Carolina. Smart and good with languages, she learns to read English and delivers babies. Meena also falls in love with Chekura, a boy she met on the journey in Africa. They are often separated, but start a family. Incredibly, Meena ends up in New York, Nova Scotia, the new colony of Freetown, Sierra Leone, and eventually in London, where she speaks to abolitionists about the the truth of slavery. Despite tragedy and malaria, Meena carries on, always a resilient survivor, and finds happiness in the end. We discussed this book at the library recently, and everyone thought the book well worth reading and discussing. Some of us wanted more resolution for Aminata, but found her story, while incredible, quite memorable. The author was inspired by the Book of Negroes, a record of 3,000 black Loyalists who were promised land in Nova Scotia by the British.