THE VANISHING HALF by Brit Bennett

From the Jacket

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical.  But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities.  Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape.  The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past.  Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined.  What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing.  Looking well beyond issues of race, THE VANISHING HALF considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

My Thoughts

It seems like every summer brings the literary world one bestseller that everyone is excited for, and this summer that book was THE VANISHING HALF!  Beyond debuting at number one on the New York Times bestseller list, Bennett’s sophomore novel was also the subject of a 7-figure HBO deal as well as the selection for a myriad of online book clubs.  Though THE VANISHING HALF had been on my radar for a while, making my own “most anticipated” list back in January, the pure excitement and praise surrounding this novel inspired me to pick it up sooner rather than later.

“She hadn’t realized how long it takes to become somebody else, or how lonely it can be living in a world not meant for you.”

THE VANISHING HALF follows identical twin sisters Desiree and Stella as they leave their small Louisiana town to pursue opposing paths; Desiree gets stuck in a bad marriage and returns to Mallard with her dark-skinned daughter, and Stella flees for California, where she lives with her wealthy husband and passes as a white woman.  The novel then follows a small cast of characters over a few generations, with the main focus on Desiree and Stella as well as their daughters, Jude and Kennedy, respectively.  Books that follow a group of people across a period of time are my absolute favorites, and THE VANISHING HALF is so well done in that regard.

One of THE VANISHING HALF’s biggest strengths is how invested I was in the characters!  I truly became emotional over how I wanted this book to end, and I really grew to care about the Vignes family.  I felt a particular connection to Jude, and, while it’s not always necessary for me to feel connected to a main character, it definitely keeps me coming back for more!

Additionally, Bennett kept throwing some serious curveballs!  Almost every chapter ended with a surprise- not necessarily a cliff hanger, more like a small revelation that totally changed my perception of what I just read.  There were some plot progressions that I totally did not see coming, like the story of Jude and her boyfriend, Reese, which was a really pleasant surprise.

“People thought that being one of a kind made you special. No, it just made you lonely. What was special was belonging with someone else.”

Brit Bennett’s second novel THE VANISHING HALF is a timely, poignant story full of incredible commentary on passing that makes it an important read for everyone.  I learned so much while being fully immersed in each character’s life and completely gripped by the plot!  I couldn’t find anything wrong with this novel if I tried.

Further Reading

“Brit Bennett Reimagines the Literature of Passing” by Sarah Resnick, The New Yorker
“Brit Bennett on The Vanishing Half, Protest, and How Changes Happens” by Erin Vanderhoof, Vanity Fair
“Brit Bennett on Her New Novel, Favorite Writers, and Zoom Fatigue” by Maisy Card, Glamour

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