Thursday, June 4, 2020

A Review of The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Summer. It's here. It took me a few months to get back into my reading groove, and I think I'm almost there again, thankfully. 

The world is a hurting place, and I, along with so many others, are self-reflecting on my place in it, and my responsibility towards living a life of peace and love. I have always looked to the stories that books tell-whether they are fiction or non-fiction-to help me understand where the world was, and how we came to be where we are now. How others live; their cultures, the barriers they face, and the ugly and brutal things we do to each other out of fear and just plain ignorance.

 I will continue to read stories, memoirs, and history books that will help me understand the beautiful, magnificent, deeply troubled and damaged world we live in and call our home. And I hope I can, in some way, make it better. I may not be out protesting, but I will vote for change, and donate to causes I feel are important. We all do what we can. 

I saw a quote from Denzel Washington yesterday. He said that "Resistance is NOT a one lane highway. Maybe your lane is protesting, maybe your lane is organizing, maybe your lane is counseling, maybe your lane is art activism, maybe your lane is surviving the day. Do NOT feel guilty for not occupying every lane. We need all of them." 

So, onto The Vanishing Half. I received an advanced copy of this novel from a library conference and it was a great choice to kick off my summer reading. Brit Bennett's the author of The Mothers, which is the  adult All Iowa Read for 2020. I haven't read it, but now it's definitely on my list. 

The Vanishing Half is about two sisters-identical twins. The Vignes sisters: Desiree and Stella. They live in the very small town of Millard, Louisiana. Millard is a black community with a bit of a twist: everyone there is light skinned. They could pass for white people, but they identify as black, and are treated by the white people around them as black. It's the 1960's, and both girls want to escape Millard. Memories of their father being murdered by white men haunt them both, but especially Stella. They run away to New Orleans, and seem happy there for a bit. But Stella decides to try for a 'whites only' job, and gets it. She hides her secret every day, afraid someone will find out she's not white at all. And as she works, she realizes that she wants that kind of life-the white kind. But it means leaving Desiree behind. 

Years later, Desiree returns to Millard with her young daughter, Jude. Desiree did what most folks in Millard consider unforgivable: she married a black man-a very dark black man, and produced a child that did not fit into Millard's light skinned community. Poor Jude. She's shunned by everyone in the town; sits by herself at school, and running track is her only way out. Desiree stays in Millard, reconnecting to an old boyfriend and taking care of her mother. She always says she'll leave, but she never does. Desiree thinks about Stella-where she is, what her life is like, and the depth of her anger, sense of betrayal, and grief never goes away.

You also dive into Stella's life. It's vastly different from Desiree's life. She lives her life as a white woman, and keeps her secret from everyone, including her husband and her daughter, Kennedy-a blonde, violet eyed beauty. She has lived her life as a white woman longer than she ever identified as a black woman. And she lives in a privileged community in L.A., caught in her lies and unable to make peace with all of it. 

The novel moves into the 80's, as Jude and Kennedy grow up--and yes, cross paths. You may think it's just not possible, but Bennett writes the story in such a way that yes, it's very possible and makes perfect sense. How can these two women find any commonality? Will Stella ever return to Millard? Will Desiree ever see her sister again? What do you do when you live a lie for so long that it traps you? 

This was such a powerful novel about sisters, family, race, and identity. Hiding behind masks. Struggling to be seen. Jude--I loved Jude! She is such a powerhouse. Kennedy--a hot mess so lost she doesn't even realize how lost she is, and just keeps spiraling down. Stella so full of guilt; Desiree who tried to escape but finds herself right back where she started. The characters in this novel are worthy of long discussions, and this would make an excellent book group title. 

Rating: 5/6 for a powerful look at how we identify ourselves and people of color, and how society identifies us-the struggles to reconcile dreams with reality, and the sacrifices made on the journey. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 


  1. Great review... I've been on the fence about getting this book, but your review makes me want to grab a copy and read it.

    1. It definitely is a good read! I'm really happy to see how well it's doing!

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