Once again, Monk Kidd focuses on Southern women, both white and black, and the ways in which they interact and relate. Here, though, she writes in two different voices: Handful, a slave, and Sarah, the wealthy girl who’s presented with Handful as a gift for her eleventh birthday. And, yes, it’s written so that you shudder at the idea of one human being given as a gift to another.
I found, oddly enough given that the author is a white woman, that the character of Handful came alive for me more than that of Sarah. Her voice seemed more authentic, and more engaging.
Yet as it turns out, Handful is largely a fictional character while Sarah Grimké actually lived. The real Handful (Hetty) died in childhood while Sarah went on to become a famous (infamous at the time) abolitionist and early feminist. I expected to care for Sarah a great deal more than I did, given her courage, intelligence and ethics, but as she’s drawn here, I found her a character that’s hard to warm up to.
Nonetheless, why had I never heard of her, or her sister Angelina, before? These two women moved north from Charleston, South Carolina where their family owned a plantation worked by slaves, to Philadelphia. They became Quakers and then toured the Northern states proclaiming against the slavery of Africans and their descendants, and the virtual slavery of women.
Read the book. It’s worth getting to know Handful and her proud, brave mother. Then read some more about the two amazing Grimké sisters, a fascinating part of history of which you, too, may have been deprived.