This novel is based on two women who had the guts to stand up against slavery and the lack of rights for women in the 1820's. A hundred years before women got the right to vote. Sometimes a loud roar starts off with a quiet growl. Sarah and Nina Grimke form two parts of an amazing trio of women; the third woman, Handful, was Sarah's slave. Sarah's mother gives Handful to Sarah on her 11th birthday. Sarah is a pretty smart kid. She reads books from her father's library (he's a judge, wealthy, slave owner, and lives in Charleston) and dreams of one day becoming a lawyer. She is horrified at the gift her mother gives her, and refuses to become the owner of Handful. She even writes out a statement freeing Handful and leaves it for her father, sure he'll abide by her wishes. Instead, the statement is ripped up and left outside her bedroom door. She is Handful's mistress whether she likes it or not. Thus begins a 30 year journey between two woman: one black, one white, one free, one enslaved.
We come to know Handful and her mother, Charlotte, the family's seamstress. Charlotte is feisty and determined to one day be free. She quilts her family's history and sneaks out to make extra money to one day buy her and Handful's freedom. And yes, you guessed it--things don't go so well. The brutality and downright wrongness of slavery makes blatant appearances to Handful and Charlotte, as well as Nina and Sarah. The relationship between Sarah and Handful was a complex one; I expected more of a novel about a close relationship between the women, but that didn't happen. Sarah is haunted by Charlotte's demand that one day Sarah free Handful. Sarah finds it much harder to do this than she ever imagines; can she ever grant this wish and free Handful? Sarah's life as a privileged upper-class white woman in Charleston has left her in a prison created by society's rigid rules and regulations regarding women. While Nina became the more famous of the Grimke sisters, it is Sarah's story that is the focus of this novel.
The novel is told in alternating chapters between Sarah and Handful. It took me a bit to get into the story, and I think this was because I kept getting distracted from the book. The ending is one that made me tear up. It comes full circle. Knowing some background of the Grimke sisters certainly helped me have a good framework before I got too deep into the story, and I would certainly read the author's notes in the back of the book before you begin the novel.
A powerful novel about the horror of slavery, friendship in all of it's complications, and amazing women who were afraid but stepped forward and fought anyway.
Available in paperback, hardcover, e-book, and audio.
Thank you to Rebecca from Penguin/Random House for a copy of the book!
Rating: 8/10 for a novel about women who saw wrong and fought hard to change it, sometimes at great cost to themselves.