TITLE: The Vanishing Half AUTHOR: Brit Bennett GENRE: fiction PUBLISHER: Riverhead Books YEAR: 2020 PAGE COUNT: 343
Set in the 60s–90s, The Vanishing Half is about two light-skinned Black twin sisters who, after running away from their small hometown together as teenagers, set out on completely different life paths. Desiree marries a dark-skinned man and has a dark-skinned daughter with him while Stella pretends to be white, keeping her true identity hidden from everyone, including her white husband and daughter. Stella completely cuts off contact with Desiree and their mother, leaving the two wondering what ever became of her. Things take a turn when the twins’ daughters meet in their twenties and start putting together the pieces of their complicated family history.
Ok, this was definitely a case of “Bookstagram made me do it,” and I’m glad it did! I don’t usually buy new release hardcover books because money, but after reading the plot of The Vanishing Half, I was all gimme gimme gimme.
First off, Brit Bennett is an incredible writer. Her first book, The Mothers, is also great, and I have a feeling she has lot more books in her. In The Vanishing Half, she does such a good job of moving through time and seamlessly moving forward and back between Stella and Desiree’s childhoods and their present day. The book is in third person and really focuses on the perspectives of Desiree and her daughter, Jude, and Stella and her daughter, Kennedy. It was so interesting to see each character through their own mind and through the other characters’ eyes. This book is truly about how who you see on the outside isn’t always who the person is on the inside, no matter how well you think you know them.
Alright, SPOILERS ahead—you’ve been warned
Some of my favorite moments in the book are between Jude and Kennedy as well as between Stella and Kennedy. I’m not sure this is a super popular opinion, but Kennedy may have been my favorite character. She’s the epitome of white privilege (as well as class privilege and pretty privilege) and watching her come to terms with who she is and where she comes from is fascinating. I love a good mother-daughter storyline and I was so compelled by her and Stella’s relationship, especially when Kennedy began realizing how deep Stella’s lies went. And Jude and Kennedy’s friendship was interesting to see develop.
In general, the way this book handles race is fascinating. I knew a little about white passing prior to reading it (I read some of Passing by Nella Larson in high school), but The Vanishing Half really shows how it affects not only the person passing, but the people around them and related to them. Stella was such a sympathetic character because she’s passing as a way to survive. She’s not trying to hurt anyone and is actually trying her hardest to protect them. Her fear was palpable on the page and it was heartbreaking. I can’t imagine having to completely shed your identity and live in constant fear of being exposed. My only wish for this book is that she would have eventually told her husband. I really expected her to by the end of the book. Throughout the story he’s shown as being more-open minded and I would have loved to see him accept Stella for who she is and allow her to finally stop living a lie. At the same time, I imagine how terrifying a risk it would be to tell him after all that time.
I also wish Desiree and Stella had better closure. I was heartbroken for both of them when they reunited and Stella left without saying goodbye. Again, I know why she did it, but it was just so incredibly sad.
Despite the sadness of the book, there was also a good amount of happiness and joy. I loved that Jude found success and love and that her partner, Reese (a trans man), was able to transition and be happy. Reese is also a great example of passing in this book, as no one ever suspects him to be trans, and like Stella, he finds safety in this. And I love that Stella was finally able to make a career for herself that challenged and fulfilled her.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and the way it explores race and family dynamics. I think at this point, I’d read anything Brit Bennett writes.
You can buy The Vanishing Half at your local bookstore or online at Bookshop.org!
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