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.
This book completes my summer reading list!
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