Published in the UK by Dialogue Books – June 2020
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. Ten 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’ story lines 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.
I want to start by saying that this book was a complete surprise to me. I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of the book by Tandem Collective so that I could join in on one of their summer readalongs and it was so much more than I expected it to be. The group I was in a chat with was fantastic and we had pretty similar views and outcomes from the novel.
Brit Bennett has such a wonderful voice and she uses it powerfully in The Vanishing Half – I went into this novel after reading the above synopsis, thinking it was a tale of losing a sister, a twin, a part of your soul but I took away so much more than that.
Brit tells the story of the twins through their parents and their children and how the events they all lived through affected them – the twins leave their hometown and separate as young women, pursuing different lives and lifestyles. Stella, “crosses over” and chooses to live as white, married to a white man, in a middle class neighbourhood and Desiree chooses to marry a black man, who she leaves and ends up back home, taking her daughter with her to the town she tried so hard to leave.
Between the intertwining narratives, Brit tackles how racism and flaws in society affect its inhabitants and she does this inclusively, representing black people, white people, men, women, transgender and different sexualities. I think my favourite characters in the novel were Reese and Jude, the steps they make towards equality is so wonderfully written and they were such diverse and deep characters I couldn’t help but wish for more of their story as I read the book!
Ultimately, this novel for me was about identity and how a person can shape their identity to what they want and need it to be, through conscious and subconscious actions; how their relationships mould their identity and ultimately, it is about losing a part of yourself to (find yourself) become that identity.
I can’t recommend this book enough, while the first few chapters were slow and introductory, it did not take long for me to get sucked in and need to finish! I will be looking out for more of Bennett’s books! You can buy The Vanishing Half now on Amazon for Kindle or in Hardback.
Goodreads Rating 4.5 (5) / 5