Tag Archives: Biracial Identity

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.

Review: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky
By Heidi Durrow
(Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Paperback, 9781616200152, January 2011, 278pp.)

The Short of It:

A tragic tale of a motherless girl and her struggle to come to terms with who she is. Strong in voice, but fell short in the execution.

The Rest of It:

After her family falls off the roof of their building, Rachel is the sole survivor and since her G.I. dad is not in the picture (by choice), she is forced to leave Chicago for Oregon, to live with her paternal grandmother.

At eleven years of age, Rachel finds the transition to be a rough one. In Chicago, the fact that her mother was Danish and her father was black, didn’t seem to be an issue, but when she moves to Oregon, her blue eyes cause her fellow classmates to raise their eyebrows over this “light skinned-ed” girl (as she is called by some).

Her innocence and confusion over what happened in Chicago, and her concern over how she will fit into this new world, is heartbreaking. Except, she’s not all that innocent when it comes down to it, and there are mysterious circumstances surrounding the true events of that fateful evening which is given to the reader in tiny pieces, as told by various characters and sometimes even moving back and forth in time.

What Durrow does well, is create a voice for this young girl that tugs at your heartstrings. Rachel is fragile, like a baby bird. You can’t help but feel for her and all you want to do while reading this book, is grab the girl and give her the biggest hug possible. Life without a mother and father, knowing what she knows, and knowing that there is no way to ever bring her mother back, is almost too much for this young girl to bear.

However, I did have some issues with the story. In a book like this, where identity is front and center, you expect the main character to come full circle or to at least feel comfortable in the skin she was born in. I’m not certain that this occurred by the end of the story. I don’t feel that she had any more of an understanding of who she was at the end, than she did at the beginning of the story which left me feeling lukewarm about all of it.

All in all, what could have been a great book was really just an okay read for me. It lost steam in the middle, picked up towards the end and then left me feeling so-so about it. However, as a book club read, which this is for me, I think there is plenty to discuss. The choices that the parents made, the need to fit in, mixed-marriages and issues of self-worth are all discussion worthy topics and if given a chance to read another Durrow book, I would.

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