Review: The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half
By Brit Bennett
Riverhead Books, 9780525536291, June 2020, 352pp.

The Short of It:

The Vanishing Half is a book that must be discussed.

The Rest of It:

Stella and Desiree are twins, living in the small (fictional) town of Mallard, Louisiana. This town is known for its black, light-skinned inhabitants. As young children, they witness the murder of their father by a group of angry white men, and from that point on, the girls, each affected in different ways, step out of their familiar surroundings to begin lives outside of Mallard.

At first, they do this together. Taking odd jobs, sleeping on floors and eventually making a place of their own to call home. But Stella wants more and eventually leaves Desiree behind to pursue what she feels is a better life. A life that should not be held from her, just because she’s black. Desiree is hurt by the abandonment but at the time, doesn’t fully understand Stella’s choices. All she wants throughout the years is to find her sister once again.

This story is told in several parts and jumps into the present day as we meet Jude and Kennedy, the children of Desiree and Stella. We also meet their significant others and as readers, we are brought into Stella’s world as she makes the decision to pass for white. One day, Stella is mistaken for white and just goes along with  it. The concept of “passing” is one that affects more than just Stella as the story unfolds.

The Vanishing Half is a story about identity. Racial identity as well as gender identity (one of the characters, one of my favorite characters is transgendered). These characters are trying to find their way and their true selves and not without a lot of struggle. Some of Stella’s choices will anger you but Bennett wrote her in such a way, that you can’t hold her choices against her. She feels regret for her decisions but as readers we also see why she made these decisions to begin with.

I really liked how the story was structured and how balanced it was. I appreciated the decision to move the characters to California, particularly Los Angeles because as I can tell you, Los Angeles is accepting of a lot and it’s a place where people find themselves all the time. People can be whatever they want here, so having some of the story set in Los Angeles made sense. I really enjoyed the writing and I was lucky enough to be told about the Los Angeles Times Book Club interview with Bennett right after finishing the book so I got to hear her take on the book and it was just a great talk.

I highly recommend The Vanishing Half. Now, I really want to read her first book, The Mothers.

This book completes my summer reading list!

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

16 thoughts on “Review: The Vanishing Half”

    1. A lot of praise, yes. I think that’s why it took me a little while to get to it. I get excited about hyped up books but then I am often disappointed by them. Not the case this time.

  1. Waiting for my turn with library copy; I have the audio but, want to read this one instead. I bet it would make for some good discussion material.

    1. Definitely. SO much to discuss. I wish my own book club had read it together. I can’t wait for you to read it. It’s a little different from what I was expecting but in a good way.

    1. I love how you put that. Yes, I wanted them to be okay too. We didn’t really get to know Desiree all that well. I think we got to know Jude the most. I participated in the LA Times talk with the author and she said that Reese came from a short story she was writing but liked him so much she found a way to work him in. I loved Reese.

    1. I would think these days that passing for white, whether intentional or not wouldn’t be that big of a deal but I guess it is.

  2. Hey Ti, you did a great job reviewing & talking about the issues in this novel. I just finished it and liked it a lot. I thought the issues were compelling and the storytelling among all the characters was really good. I liked it better than the author’s first book The Mothers. I was frustrated by Stella’s choices … I kept thinking she would come clean but as she said she had gone too far. I liked Jude. The twins and the generational elements were all good. A lot to think about.

    1. I’m really glad I was able to listen to the author speak about some of her choices. I felt that Reese’s story could have been a book on its own and as it turns out, he was a character from a short story she wrote before Vanishing so that explains why he felt like more to me.

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