I believe this is the first Sue Monk Kidd book I have reviewed since I have started one-elevenbooks. That’s strange because I’ve read several of her books before. From what I know of Sue, she tends to write about somewhat morbid happenings and their aftermath. This book doesn’t fall into that pattern.
This book is about two women living in the 1800s in Charleston, South Carolina. Their names are Hetty and Sarah. Sarah Grimké. Sarah’s family owns several slaves and lives in a rather comfortable house. The family is well-known. It’s Sarah’s eleventh birthday and she gets a present she doesn’t want. That present is Hetty. Hetty is twelve years old and is a slave. Her mother’s name is Charlotte and she is the best seamstress in the area. She tells Hetty that their people used to be able to fly, but they’ve since forgotten. Sarah tries to write a paper of manumission for Hetty, but her parents won’t hear of it. Sarah’s father is a lawyer in addition to any other enterprises.
Sarah promises Charlotte that she will help to get Hetty free someday. Charlotte takes her at her word. The two girls become friends, because Sarah can’t think of anything else to do with Hetty since her parents won’t let Sarah free Hetty. Sarah teaches Hetty to read and write and gets in big trouble for it. It’s against the law after all. Sarah always thought that her father despised the institution of slavery, but he talks to Sarah about how it’s the white person’s duty to watch over the negro slaves. Sarah is not happy with this at all. She also wants to be a lawyer, but her parents squash that dream quickly. Women just don’t do such things. Dejected, Sarah begs her mother to become the last Grimké child’s godmother at only twelve years old. Sarah sets about instructing Angelina Grimké in the ways of the world in which she sees proper. Nina is raised to despise the institution of slavery just as Sarah does.
Hetty watches her mother sneak off to meet a man. One day, Charlotte is just gone. Hetty must fend for herself, but she does alright because her mother has taught her all the ways of being a seamstress. Charlotte also left her the memory quilt she had made. It’s beautiful and Hetty treasures it. At one point, Sarah is engaged, but it doesn’t work out.
Years pass. Sarah takes her father up north to die. She meets a Quaker named Israel who puts a huge impression upon her. Sarah stays some time with the Quakers, eventually becoming one of them. Hetty goes about her life as a seamstress wishing for her mother and many other things. She participates in a small rebellion that is squashed before it can ever begin. Soon Nina leaves home as well. She’s had it with her family’s ways. They both become Quakers. Sarah aspires to become a Quaker minister.
Israel, the man Sarah met before, who made such an impression, asks Sarah to marry him after his beloved wife Rebecca passes away, but he does not desire her to be a minister as well. Sarah turns him down. Sarah and Nina work closely with Lucretia Mott. They write papers which are published in newspapers across the south. They are soon no longer welcome at home.
For Hetty, a surprise turns up. Her mother shows up, aged and white-haired, with a younger sister in tow. The younger sister is quite capable. Hetty takes care of her mother until she dies. Sarah and Nina make a special trip to the south to see if they can buy Hetty and her younger sister our from under their mother, but she refuses. It’s time to take matters into their own hands.
What I liked
Here’s the cool thing about this book, Sarah and Nina were real. They existed and they were important. This book is fictionalized, but not that much. Sarah and Nina Grimké were among some pretty outspoken abolitionists but were also women’s rights advocates, way before people like Margaret Sanger spoke out. I might have heard about Sarah and Nina in passing, but I didn’t recall their names. Lucretia Mott was a familiar name, but Sarah and Nina were not in my knowledge base, now they are. I know who they are and hopefully I will not forget. It was by their work that others were able to lobby for equal rights not only in concerns to the abolition of slavery, but also in concerns to equal rights for women.
Even though Sarah and Nina aren’t that well-known, they’re still very important. They were a step in equal rights. Think of all battles as a staircase. You can’t go from the bottom to the top in one great leap, you have to go in steps. Sarah and Nina are probably near the bottom of the staircase as far as women’s rights, but women certainly wouldn’t have the rights they have today without their step. They were also a step in equality for African-Americans. Even though you don’t know their names, if they hadn’t existed, maybe Martin Luther King Jr., never would have gotten as far as he did. You have to think about the people who paved the way for all those great names you know.
Even though someone like Henry VIII was a pompous murdering ass, his break from the Catholic church paved the way for many of us practicing protestant faiths. I know you don’t like to give credit to a guy like that, but we’d be way behind if he hadn’t done what he did do. That’s just an example of how this whole history thing works.
The house Sarah and Nina lived in, still stands. It’s in Charleston and is now apparently a law office. I might go see it one day, just to say that I saw it.
I have a new-found respect for Quakers. I knew that women could be ministers in the Quaker faith, but never really paid too much attention to the faith. I knew they were called Quakers because they supposedly “shook” or “quaked” when they got the spirit, even though they were rather subdued most of the time. That guy on the oatmeal box is totally a Quaker by the way, that’s why he wears that weird hat.
What I didn’t like
I’m all for women’s rights. I think women should have the right to use as much darn birth control as they want. I think they should have rights to equal pay for equal work. I think they should be able to vote. I think there shouldn’t be any discrimination as far as sex goes. I’m all for all of that, but I’m still old fashioned enough that I think it’s sad that Sarah Grimké never got married and had a family. I think every woman should get married and get to have babies. Yes, I know, totally old fashioned. I feel so bad for Sarah because it was really expected of her to do that in her time period and she was left out. Can you imagine how much social pressure would have been placed upon her? These days, if you’re a woman and you don’t get married and have babies, people might talk, mostly your great aunts, but no one is going to be that up in the air about it. Back in Sarah’s day though, marriage was a woman’s everything. You were considered kind of this third-class citizen if you were an unmarried woman back in the day. All the things Sarah were accomplished were amazing, and, no, she probably wouldn’t have accomplished those things had she been married.
Hetty was loosely based on a real person, but for the most part, Hetty’s not real. That’s kind of unfortunate because Hetty is pretty neat.
I can’t believe people ever seriously wrote laws that forbid a person from learning how to read and write because of their color. What jerks! Oh it’s all for the good of society! Balderdash!! Codswallop!! and all of that!! Losers…
Well, it’s not about accidentally shooting your mother or blowing up your father on his fishing boat, but it’s still pretty good.