Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Invention of Wings


 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.
(From Goodreads)


 What does it mean to be free? Does it take the literal form as being physically free from bondage? Or, perhaps freedom can also be used to describe an independent state of mind? In Sue Monk Kidd's The Invention of Wings, both scenarios are true. Set in the slave-driven south, Kidd’s fictional interpretation of the lives of famed abolitionists and female rights activists Sarah and Angelina Grimke delve into the idea of freedom as a concept both mental and physical, showing each from the unique perspective of both hesitant master and slave.

 The opening scenes of the book truly set the stage for what will develop into a complicated and, at the time, socially unacceptable relationship between Sarah Grimke and her 11th birthday present, a young slave named Hetty “Handful” Grimke. Sarah, even at the young age of 11, knows that slavery is wrong, and tries to reject her “gift”, much to the chagrin of her overbearing mother. This disdain for the peculiar institution of slavery never leaves Sarah, even after forcibly accepting Handful as her slave. If anything, it propels her to follow a path that she feels is righteous and true.  Sarah has dreams and aspirations of pursuing a career in law, just like her father and brother, hoping to be able to one day make a real difference in the world. She feverishly studies her father’s law books, and even garners her father’s praise as having a gift for the vocation.  A turning point for both girls is the discovery that Sarah has taught Handful to read. This is viewed as criminal in the racially divided South, leaving Handful with physical scars from a severe beating, and Sarah with the mental scars of being severed from her father and his beloved books.  

 After having her dream of attaining a law degree is dashed, Sarah leaves the South and Handful behind to pursue an abolitionist’s cause. Once in the North, however, Sarah finds that her freedom from the South is merely just a physical removal, encountering her own form of discrimination because she is a woman who holds strong opinions. Her struggle for women’s rights brings her great notoriety, as well as influential enemies bent on suppressing her voice. This begs the question: Is she TRULY free?

 Handful, in contrast, spends her days perfecting her seamstress craft. Eventually, she becomes well known for her talent with a needle and thread, and finds herself in high demand, not only on the Grimke plantation, but all over Charleston, South Carolina. Handful hopes this new found demand is her ticket to freedom. She creates a mental sense of independence that gives her the courage to believe that one day she could be free. Her true freedom comes by way of a family quilt started by her mother that depicts the lineage of her family. Her need to finish this quilt allows her a spiritual freedom that transcends the physical bondage of slavery, even though she remains on the Grimke plantation where even Sarah is unable to set her free. It becomes clear that her mental freedom is far more liberating than Sarah’s bodily freedom in the North.

 After reading this novel, I was left with a real admiration for Kidd’s attention to detail and adherence to historical reality . . . as much as that is possible in a piece of fiction. As I read the story, I found that I could hear the characters speaking to me right from the page. The dialogue is written in such a way, that you feel as though you are there, hearing every twang and colloquial term that you might expect from the time period.  The complex task of unveiling the antebellum South through the eyes of both master and slave is done with great mastery, while still making this a story of triumph over great adversity that transcends the centuries.

Admittedly, I have not read any other pieces by Sue Monk Kidd, so I really have no basis to compare this with her other novels, but as a stand-alone The Invention of Wings has all of those smart touches that makes the reader want to devour more of her work. She runs the gamut of emotion from witty humor to unabashed disgust over the treatment of Hetty and her fellow plantation workers. Readers will laugh, cry and cheer out loud! If you are expecting the run of the mill antebellum novel, you will be more than pleasantly surprised at the depth of the characters, as well as the brazen and bold face put to the early abolition and women’s right movements. Without reservation or hesitation,  I give this book 5 stars. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hello! It's nice to meet you. . .

Greetings! My name is Jenny, and I will be the new author of the Lit Writ blog! I hope to delight and inform you with the same enthusiasm as my predecessor, with a heaping spoonful of my own quirkiness and unique perspective. Feedback is always welcome...if you think I should review something, shoot me a message, and I will check it out! I look forward to sharing my thoughts and ideas with you, and hope you find them useful, or at the very least entertaining. My first official blog entry is currently brewing! Check back soon for my debut! :)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Farewell Post

Hey Lit Writ readers!

Starting very soon, a new author will be taking over The Lit Writ. This will be my last post. I've had a lot of fun writing this blog over the last six months, and I hope you've enjoyed reading it.

The Lit Writ will be going on a brief hiatus as the new author moves in. Don't fret: we'll be back soon!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Weekly Book Review: The Golden Compass

Click to find this book in our catalogue.
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Released: July 1995
Genre: Fantasy / Science Fiction / Steampunk


Here lives an orphaned ward named Lyra Belacqua, whose carefree life among the scholars at Oxford's Jordan College is shattered by the arrival of two powerful visitors. First, her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, appears with evidence of mystery and danger in the far North, including photographs of a mysterious celestial phenomenon called Dust and the dim outline of a city suspended in the Aurora Borealis that he suspects is part of an alternate universe. He leaves Lyra in the care of Mrs. Coulter, an enigmatic scholar and explorer who offers to give Lyra the attention her uncle has long refused her. In this multilayered narrative, however, nothing is as it seems. Lyra sets out for the top of the world in search of her kidnapped playmate, Roger, bearing a rare truth-telling instrument, the compass of the title. All around her children are disappearing—victims of so-called "Gobblers"—and being used as subjects in terrible experiments that separate humans from their daemons, creatures that reflect each person's inner being. And somehow, both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are involved.

[From Goodreads]


I have no trouble declaring The Golden Compass of a higher order than most fantasy novels. Be aware: this is coming from someone who, from the age of 8 to around the age of 24, read nothing but fantasy novels and assigned texts. Many fantasy novels ignite the imagination, but few ignite the brain, at least not as skillfully as Pullman's magnum opus. The Golden Compass has the guts to confront both philosophy and religion in ways that are sure to offend or alienate certain readers.

Lyra Belacqua/Lyra Silvertongue, our not-so-humble protagonist, may be neither physically powerful nor particularly booksmart, but she has street smarts in abundance. Lyra is a capable heroine who rescues herself as often as she is rescued, and often her rescuers are led to defend her through her own machinations. Her problems are solved through quick wits, skillful lies, and the help of the alethiometer, a compass that can answer any question, provided one can read its spinning hands and many-meaninged symbols. Lyra can be spiteful, arrogant, and, in her own words, lacking in imagination, but that is, in my opinion, all the more endearing. Too often female leads in both the fantasy and YA genres are "perfect" aside from a few shallow flaws (clumsiness is one of the most common). Lyra's virtues and vices make her more vivid and more human than her superficial peers.

Almost all of the major characters are memorable. The cast includes an exiled armored bear, a Texan balloonist, the matriarch of a witch clan, one of the greatest villainesses ever put to page, and a herd of soulbeasts who range from cuddly (Pantalaimon) to terrifying (the golden monkey). That it manages such a diverse cast without feeling bloated is testament to its quality.

The Golden Compass' mythology is inventive and almost wholly original. Lyra's alternate world is populated by such creatures as shapeshifting animals who serve as physical representations of the soul, intelligent bears with a penchant for blacksmithing, and matriarchal, immortal witches. Despite the outlandish nature of some of its concepts, The Golden Compass straddles the line between oddity and realism fairly well through abundant detail and a supply of world-building anecdotes.

Recommended for anyone who can deal with a little religious criticism. Those who can't, steer well clear.

You should also read:

The Amulet of Samarkand

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Weekly Book Review: Harry Potter (Full Series)

Harry Potter and the Blankety Blank by J.K. Rowling
Genre: Fantasy
Released: 1997-2007

To make up for missing last week's Weekly Book Review, I present you with mini-reviews for every single Harry Potter book. These reviews are arranged in order of preference, from my favorite at the top to my least-loved at the bottom. I should clarify, before we begin, that while I have many complaints about those books near the bottom of this list, I still loved reading each and every one of them. The series as a whole gets an A+ from me, and only His Dark Materials comes close to the sheer number of rereads I've done over the years. Harry Potter lies close to my heart. I criticize it out of love.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Weekly Book Review: The Hunger Games

Click to find this book in our catalogue.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Released: September 14, 2008
Genre: Sci-Fi / Young Adult


The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. The 'tributes' are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.

When 16-year-old Katniss's young sister, Prim, is selected as District 12's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives. , she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.


It's easy to see why The Hunger Games became such a phenomenon. Mixing an interesting idea with decent world-building and a whole lot of tension, The Hunger Games is a gripping read that pulls its audience in with a disturbing premise and keeps them hooked through swiftly escalating action. Its prose serves more to propel the reader through the plot than compel further reading through its own merits. The Hunger Games is a thing of short, clipped sentences and light description, favoring action over moments of thought or observation. Whether that's good or bad is up to your tastes. For me, the prose wasn't bothersome, but it certainly wouldn't have been enough of a draw to keep me reading without Collins' tight plotting.

The Hunger Games sets itself apart from many YA dystopias in that it presents a somewhat believable setting. We have a clear catalyst for the division of the districts and a historical explanation for the Hunger Games themselves. There are a few details that don't quite gel with reality, but I'd wager only the most demanding readers will find fault with novel's presentation of the world until after they've blown through it.

My biggest quibble with The Hunger Games and all of its sequels (especially its sequels) is that it falls into the common YA trap of saddling its heroine with a love triangle made up of two dudes who are both unappealing in their own special ways. Gale doesn't quite breach jerk territory until the next book, but he's also such a non-character in The Hunger Games that it's likely his inner jerkitude was simply biding its time. Peeta, on the other hand, is omnipresent. He somehow manages to be both the unwelcomely (and unnecessarily) protective boyfriend (despite Katniss' disinterest in the relationship except as it relates to their survival) and the damsel in distress at the same time. His presence is annoying, often dragging the excitement down as Katniss must break away from the action and her own developing plans to babysit him. His meagre personality isn't a good match for Katniss', and his strange obsession with her borders on creepy more often than it should.

The romance is, however, responsible for some of the best tactical moments in The Hunger Games, and for that, it can be partially excused. I can only wish Katniss were attached to a more interesting boy.

Like Tom Hiddleston.

Among dystopian YA, The Hunger Games is one of the best. There's a reason it let loose such a trend. Fans of dystopian YA, as well as YA in general, should give it a read, if only to see what all the fuss is about.

You should also read:


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Silver Screen Selections: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy
Studio: Marvel Studios
Director: James Gunn
Released: August 1, 2014
Genre: Superhero / Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi


After stealing a mysterious orb, American pilot/outlaw hero Peter Quill is hunted down and thrown into an inter-galactic prison. In order to secure his freedom, Quill reluctantly joins forces with alien bandits Drax, Gamora, Rocket and Groot to form an alliance of misfits known as the Guardians of the Galaxy, and with the all-powerful villain Ronan hunting the orb, the fate of the universe is in their hands.

[from Google.]

Dear movie-makers,

Take a good, hard look at Guardians of the Galaxy. This movie is proof that films can still take risks and succeed beyond all expectations if their quality is up to snuff. Guardians of the Galaxy isn't a new property, but it is a relative unknown in Marvel's expansive library. It also stars a sentient tree and a talking raccoon. Not exactly mainstream material. Marvel took a huge leap of faith when it greenlit this project, banking on the goodwill it has earned with a fantastic line-up of heroes and the fun, funny, and irreverent movies they star in. It's paying off with upwards of $1 billion in ticket sales as of this post, written only a week and a half after the movie's debut.

As the second Marvel-produced superhero team-up movie (X-Men and Fantastic Four don't count, as both were produced by Fox), Guardians of the Galaxy is certain to draw comparisons to The Avengers. Of the two, it is, I think, the better movie. More focused and more thoughtful, with a cohesive and affectionate, if dysfunctional, cadre of heroes, Guardians of the Galaxy does the team-up movie justice by setting up its characters' relationships with real moments of camaraderie and friendship. The Avengers seemed merely an alliance of convenience in comparison. The only thing The Avengers has over Guardians of the Galaxy is Tom Hiddleston, who would, had the world any justice, play at least one character in every movie. Not just Marvel movies, either. Every movie.

Tom Hiddleston's face shall henceforth feature in all Lit Writ posts.

All of the characters in Guardians of the Galaxy have their moments. There isn't a weak link in the roster, and I'm certain that each will cultivate a thriving fanbase. That they managed to give a tree and a genetically modified raccoon so much pathos is astounding. Vin Diesel should be commended for finding so many ways to say "I am Groot."

There is precedent, however.

Despite the occasional bout of predictability, every joke strikes home. Guardians is practically a thesis on the value of timing in comedy. The cast delivers each line with wit and charm, and a snappy, clever script gives each the opportunity to shine.

For those seeking a space opera with the chops to take on Star Wars, look no further. Guardians is just as cheesy as Lucasfilm's sprawling epic, but it more readily embraces its cheesiness, joyously subverting even its most serious moments with reminders that this particular brand of sci-fi, with its inexplicable space magic (the infinity stones) and oddly human aliens (see Gamora, Drax, Nebula, the Nova Corp . . .), is supposed to be fun.

Pictured: Aliens.

See Guardians of the Galaxy while it's still in theatres if you can. If not, it's well worth the eventual rent.