22 Nov Why you should read ‘The Vanishing Half’ by Brit Bennett: A Review
About the Book
From The New York Times-bestselling author of The Mothers, a stunning new novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white.
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.
As with her New York Times-bestselling debut The Mothers, Brit Bennett offers an engrossing page-turner about family and relationships that is immersive and provocative, compassionate and wise.
“The morning one of the lost twins returned to Mallard, Lou LeBon ran to the diner to break the news, and even now, many years later, everyone remembers the shock of sweaty Lou pushing through the glass doors, chest heaving, neckline darkened with his own effort. The barely awake customers clamoured around him, ten or so, although more would lie and say that they’d been there too, if only to pretend that this once, they’d witnessed something truly exciting.” (page 1).
To say I enjoyed this book is an understatement. I went so far as to post some of my thoughts on my Instagram highlights (which you can find if you follow @Queen_Kelso). This book disguises some real heavy topics at its core in the effortlessness of a beach read. For me, this book delved head first into what it’s like being a woman (or young girl) in a stifling small town – with dreams as big as the town itself. As the Vignes twins head to New Orleans – the bright big city – they learn so very quickly that they cannot be who they want to be without being separate. So begins the lie that will enormously shift their lives – and cement them to it – as they grapple with race, gender and family: the connections which bind us all together.
I thought very naively that as a ‘white’ reader this book wouldn’t resonate with me – the idea of light skinned and dark skinned and the racism within a small black community, just wasn’t something my background offered enough for me to fully commit to this novel. I ate my words as I ate biscuits while reading. Bennett makes this struggle of big concepts seem rather absolute and easy to resonate with in this novel, and with these characters. As if this is a protest manifesto, her way of calling me out, a white female, saying: See it wasn’t so difficult to face that…
Stella & Desiree are infuriating in their actions, yet so endearing. While you sit reading their mistakes, you are incredibly understanding; very much like: Oh, no don’t do that. Oh ok, you did that. Fine. But don’t come here and talk to me about it. As flawed as these women are, you find yourself identifying with them. You know you’d have done the same. Yet, as infuriating as her female protagonists are, Bennett doesn’t hold back on their male counterparts. Each on opposites ends of the spectrum, from a hopelessly in love and unsettled Early, who can’t seem to keep his feet pinned, and then suddenly is settled and happy with Desiree; to the very white and judgmental, and oppressive (at times) Blake who won’t join a rally against racism, but also – he assures you – isn’t a racist.
I could probably find fault with this novel, but I don’t really want to. I want you all to give it a go. Let its easy-writing sink you deep into this world of trouble, strife and, yes, in parts, love.
I hope you love it just as much as I did.
5 out of 5 stars
Remember to check out the Open Book Podcast interview with Brit Bennett & Sarah Jayne King.
If you have read The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, please let me know in the comments what you thought, and if you agree with my review.
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Happy Reading, all!