The Vanishing Half
Shortlisted for the Women's Prize 2021
by Brit Bennett
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Pub Date 11 Jun 2020 | Archive Date 5 Jan 2021
Little, Brown Book Group UK, Dialogue Books
This is a key Dialogue title for 2020. We will be creating exclusive early proofs to build buzz ahead of publication.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 176 members
A sincere thank you to the publisher, author and Netgalley for providing me an ebook copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. This is not my usual genre, I’m more of a crime/thriller reader therefore am extremely pleased and grateful for opening up my mind to something totally different. 4 stars 🌟🌟🌟🌟
This was an excellent drama that kept me literally entranced. The character depiction was on point and the story was fascinating and well developed.
I have a long standing interest in the free people of colour of Louisiana and other similar pockets of Black history. I think that as a little girl absorbed into a much larger step family I sought out ways to understand my differences with my siblings, being too young to understand the offhand comments made about my skin, my hair and even my attitude.
Brit Bennett offers an unflinching account of colourism in the Black community, the turning on our own to shame and ridicule. But I didn't find The Vanishing Half to be only about that in particular, nor about the many other social issues, some surprising, that emerged as the story unfolded. The success of this book, and why I feel certain it will shoot to the top of Must Read lists, lies in how every character is so richly realised that any reader can empathise. I understand Stella, and Desiree, Jude, Kennedy and even Reese. Not because I have the exact same experiences, but because we all hide things, and give up parts of ourselves. We hurt, and those experiences of the past inform our futures. We all make difficult decisions and try to have good intentions. It takes such skill, to write relatable characters that strangers can be passionate about but somehow, this is a masterful success.
Wow this book is fantastic. I started it and thought it was a bit slow but the book unravelled itself it is beautifully written, there are so many different layers to this book. It was incredible.
An involving read that covered some difficult prejudices. The characters were so well drawn they came to life as I read. I felt sympathy for all their viewpoints.
This was a carefully crafted novel; a cleverly worked out plot with much depth of character. The twins Stella and Desiree, who run away from their small southern coloured town go their separate ways - one marries a very dark man and has a black child, the other masquerades as white, marries her boss and has a white daughter. Their daughter meet accidentally and their own stories are then followed. There are some lovely relationships - particularly Desiree and Early, and Reese and Jude. The racial politics are quite shocking to the UK reader, but relationships are the main point of this story and the overall tone is optimistic.
So this might actually be the best book I’ve read this year. A contemporary voice giving life to a multi generational tale of race, gender, family, community and identity. Set in the Deep South and beyond, this tale of twin sisters and their families will long linger in my heart. Loved it
Twin sisters Stella and Desiree Vignes grow up in Mallard, Louisiana, the great, great, great granddaughters of the ex slave founder of the settlement. Mallard is unique in that those that live there pride themselves on the lightness of their skin - they are ‘beige’ and do not marry ‘dark’. However, despite this the girls can expect to do the same job as their mama , to clean the houses of white folk, their lives are mapped out as domestic workers. The twins have other ideas. One night in 1954 they slip away and settle in New Orleans where their lives follow very different trajectories. Fourteen years later in 1968, Desiree returns to Mallard with her young daughter Jade who is so dark she is ‘blue black’. Stella meanwhile escapes into a white world while her twin returns to her roots. The story is told through forty years of change from the perspectives of the twins and their daughters Jade and Kennedy.
This is such a well written and powerful story although not always a comfortable read especially with the racism that the characters endure. I think it’s fair to say that both sisters are damaged by the horror of what happened to their father. The characters are well developed, their feelings echo across the pages and resonate especially the isolation and loneliness particularly of Stella. It captures the historical period well, placing the sisters stories and experiences in the context of the times. The book deals with many issues especially race, class and identity. This applies to Stella as she tries to eradicate the past and reinvent herself but other characters seek to find their true individuality and sexuality. This is a slow burner which is superbly told and a book that will linger in the memory.
With thanks to NetGalley and particularly to Little, Brown Group for the ARC.
A black family , lightly skinned and living in an exclusive lightly coloured community where paleness of skin was protected and prized amongst all gifts. Identical twins in appearance, complete opposites in nature, one widely attracted to her black roots, the other drawn to the impossible objective of living the life of a white person, with all the freedom and respect she felt it would guarantee. . Two lives beating as one heart, yet yearning for a separate life and identity only achievable by escaping their background and history. One gives birth to a daughter, coal black and given her mothers total love and devotion from her first breath. The other to a child as white as the driven snow. born to a mother terrified by the weight of lies surrounding her ancestors.. Both children products of their mothers’ violent childhood and their own experiences of discrimination and poverty in a generation of racial segregation. As the story unfolds, we the reader share the struggles and heartbreak the girls endure to find happiness and contentment in the fragmented life of each mothers unhappiness, Each mother always only ever half of their whole.as lost twins. Beautifully written, a love story of a broken family lightly balanced on a background cleverly researched and drawing upon the history of racial segregation and poverty in a divided America. Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for this ARC of a well written and deeply moving 5 star read. I loved it.
‘The Vanishing Half’ by Brit Bennett is an astonishing novel. Reminiscent of early Toni Morrison, Bennett writes beautifully in this tale of race, escapism, identity and proximity. A joyous read, and a mesmerising story. A masterpiece!
I was not a fan of Bennett's "The Mothers" so my expectations going into "The Vanishing Half" weren't high. However, this novel is an absolute gem; a riveting, slow-burning novel about the infinite ways one dreams of rewriting their life by erasing their past. "The Vanishing Half" reminded me of Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God"; both books deal with the theme of discrimination within the black community itself, about the fact that lighter skin color is idealized and darkness looked down upon, a theme that hammers in the devastating lack of community solidarity.
This is my first Brit Bennett book that I have read, but will definitely not be my last.
Stella and Desiree are twins bought up in a close knit black community in Louisiana in the 1950’s. They run away together at the age of 16, but one sister will leave the other behind after she accepts a job offer and takes the opportunity to pass herself of as white, whilst the other sister marries a black man and returns to her childhood home, where her daughter is an outcast for being so dark in a lighter skinned community.
The story is told from the points of view of Desiree and Stella and their daughters. we go back in time to when they run away to the present time.
Reading this book gave me much to think about, I couldn’t imagine being bought up one way and then passing you’re self of as white, having to lie to you’re husband and child and forever worrying that you’re secret will be revealed.
A must read book that will capture you’re heart and keep it long after reading it.
Thank you to Netgalley for my copy in exchange for a review.
The Vanishing Half is a tantalising slow-burner of a novel, an intelligent exploration of race, class and identity.
The opening premise is a little flimsy, and it is only when the setting moves beyond the claustrophobic small town of Mallard that it evolves into something brilliant. The characters are believable and intriguingly developed, all on their own journey of self-discovery. While the novel deals with some weighty themes of social identity, tied up with race, class and sexuality, Bennett retains an acute awareness of the role of personal, emotional identity in this interplay. Ultimately, the characters are all searching for their own freedom in a segregated society, and they do not all end up taking the same road.
The Vanishing Half is a thought-provoking and compelling family saga - a story that will play on my mind for some time.
This intriguing and well-written novel is about twins - Desiree and Stella Vignes - who leave their small town life for New Orleans and become estranged.
I don’t wasn’t to give any plot spoilers, so suffice to say that their lives pan out very differently, including their class and even the racial identities they choose.
This novel illustrates that you can reinvent yourself, but it’s hard to leave the past behind you and it exacts a heavy toll.
The characters really grew on me and I’m now mourning them!
I haven’t read anything quite like this: intriguing premise, assured writing, a novel that engages you emotionally.
What a fabulous book. A great story, brilliant characters and interesting dilemmas made it an absolute pleasure to read. I have already purchased Brit Bennett's other book as I enjoyed this so much and will be recommending it to one and all. It would make a great Book Club choice, starting discussions on the lengths that we all go to to 'fit in' and the costs of reinvention.
Go out and get it today!
What a fantastic read! Brit Bennett is a beautifully talented author and this was an exceptional story. So many dramatic twists and turns that only a writer like Bennett could execute.
This book is exceptionally good. Along with Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson, this is potentially my top read of the year and one I will be buying for everyone as soon as I see it in print. Brit Bennett is clearly a unique talent and as soon as I finish this one, I will be going back through everything else they've ever written. Entirely compelling, brilliantly paced and not easy to put down.
Although the novel brings us to the brink of the Millennium, The Vanishing Half feels like a mythical tale. Two identical pale twins of African-American heritage live in a town called Mallard in Louisiana. Mallard is a town established and built only for those African-Americans with the fairest of skins. They don’t want anyone darker skinned living in their town or marrying into their families.
The pale twins, Desiree and Stella watch their father being lynched and killed by white men when they are still only very young. This violence, without them realising it, seems to push them in different directions and whilst they flee Mallard together they do it for very different reasons.
They run off to New Orleans where Desiree finds a dark-skinned man who beats her and gives her a child whose skin is so dark it is described as blue black. Stella becomes a secretary by omitting to tick the coloured box on her application form. The twins have such pale skin that Stella just needs to act white to be white.
While Desiree comes back to Mallard, moves back in with her Mama and lives there with her dark daughter whom everyone in Mallard shuns; Stella disappears in more ways than one. She loses her colour and her family and becomes a white girl, a white woman, wife and mother whose daughter is so pale her eyes are almost violet, her hair a shocking natural blonde.
The Vanishing Half is the tale of what happens to these twins and their daughters. It is a compelling exploration of race, identity and opportunity in 20th Century American South.
Although it took me a minute to get into it, I have not been able to stop reading for the past two days. The plot is brilliant and I think it would make a great TV series so I hope someone buys the rights ASAP. The characters are so well developed and consistent, which is something I have not find lately. The main themes are family relationships, race, gender and how hard is to escape our past and sustain lies, especially towards the ones we love. I really recommend this book. The storyline between Jude and Reese was my favourite. Thanks so much for the advance copy!
Wow what a book. Beautifully constructed and beautifully written. I was hooked right from the start and i couldn’t put it down .....finished it last night in a power cut by candlelight!!
I’m sure these characters will stay with me for a while.....and I wonder if there willl be a follow up of the next generation?
For me, this book took a while to get going, but about half way through, I really loved it. The chopping back and forth between characters and time frames was interesting as it really allowed the reader to understand each character’s perspectives. I love books like this that really make me think.. naturally, being white, I had no idea of the concept of ‘passing over’ as outlined in this story. It has helped to open my eyes and I look forward to reading more literature such as this.
I asked for a copy of this novel because I remember other people really enjoying Bennett’s first book and, I won’t lie, the cover intrigued me. I am so, so delighted that I requested to read this because this is the first book of 2020 that I have devoured. I loved it.
What I particularly appreciate, especially in light of other reading, is that this is a book that balances beautiful, interesting prose with a genuinely compelling plot and well fleshed characters. The use of shifting time and perspectives throughout kept the novel moving forward and building towards revelation and grace.
It’s a novel about colourism, about families and trauma, and more than anything about love and the self. The love in this book is so tender, so aware of the things people bring of their lives to relationships and the ways this shapes the navigation of those relationships.
It somehow strikes the balance of being a historical novel that feels modern, without feeling ahistorical. It opens up the lives of people who have always existed, but existed in different ways. I think I was most moved by the Jude’s sections, by her yearning to belong and to be loved, but this is also because her narrative helps to bring the different elements together.
I read this book in two sittings after a much more unsatisfactory read (one whose review I have been agonising over) and it was just such a comfort to read a book where the people felt like people. I felt I learned who they were, grew with them, felt their despair and their hunger and their shame. That this characterisation did not sacrifice a convincing and carefully unravelled plot, nor did it detract from mood, completely assured me of Bennett’s skill as a novelist.
Additionally, it is skillful to write about really difficult things with clarity and gentleness. Not gentle as in softening the blow, but being gentle to the characters who are hurt by so much of the world they live in. It explores race not just through the ways in which racism functions to limit and curtail the lives of people of colour, but also the ways that colourism moves within communities. It explores abandonment, shame and abuse, but without ever feeling heavy-handed. That’s a difficult balance to strike, to sit between entertainment and real human consideration.
It’s simply a very good, well-crafted, considered novel: an enjoyable, moving read, with plenty of style and heart. One I will pressing on people when its published!
The story of the Vignes twins contains everything. Secrets, lies, love, loss and lots of really interesting thoughts around identity and finding yourself. I love a book with strong female characters and this books certainly has them. They may not all be characters you like, you may question some of their decisions, but the characters are so vibrant and lifelike. This is an excellent and though provoking book that will stay with you a long time after the final page.
Its prose as restrained as it is lyrical, The Vanishing Half is a profoundly moving novel about identity and belonging, a powerful reminder that race is, after all, only a question of perception: not only how others perceive you, but also how you perceive yourself.
Okay, I’m going to be honest and say that this will be one of those books that I will cherish forever! Woah...there I said it.🤩
It’s a book that challenges and probes into difficult and important issues with such beauty and emotion that you can’t help but be swept up in its brilliance. I loved it!
The story focuses on twins Stella and Desiree who grow up in a small black community in the Deep South, where people believe that having lighter skin means a better life. They run away together at sixteen to New Orleans and part ways. The story follows each sisters journey through the years and you see how their choices in life have taken them on very different paths. Very different! It’s told from the perspectives of the sisters as well as their daughters Kennedy and Jude, and I felt this gave shape and substance to the plot. Racial identity is at the centre of this book, it ripples through the generations and narratives, from 1950 to 1990s and there are lots of twists to the tale. It certainly hones in on racism but also community, class, sexual identity, abuse, how the past shapes our future desires and examines relationships in every form. It’s very well written with intriguing characters and a storyline that captivated me from the start. I couldn’t put it down! I enjoyed every moment of reading this book and when it finished I genuinely felt sad that it had to come to an end.😭
THE VANISHING HALF is wise, powerful and thought provoking; an incredible book to get lost in. It has been selected as one of the Spring titles for #R2Bookclub with Jo Whiley. Not surprised at all folks.
I LOVED IT SO READ IT! 🙏
A poignant story of how racism can affect lives in the 60s and 70s in America.
This story revolves around identical twins, Stella and Desiree Vignes, living in a tiny town in America and how their lives go on totally different paths when they run away from home.
The small town of Mallard is unusual in that some of the coloured people are so pale that it is impossible to distinguish them from a white person. In this day and age this should make no difference to anyone. However, in the 1960s in America racial prejudice was rife and this book is a brilliant example of how this can affect people’s lives.
Stella has always yearned for the prestige and benefits being a white person can bring and when she gets a job as a secretary by pretending to be white and falls in love with her boss, Blake, she is determined that no one will ever know her origins. She marries Blake, has a daughter, Kennedy, who is blond with violet eyes and they are happily living in Los Angeles. In order to pursue her dream, she had left her twin in New Orleans without a goodbye and with no way of her being traced.
Desiree is totally distraught by the disappearance of her sister as they were almost joined together as identical twins often are and tries desperately to find her. She has also married but to a violent man and with her daughter, Jude, who is black, runs away back to Mallard to live again with her mother.
Ten years later, Jude is a talented athlete and wins a scholarship to UCLA in Los Angeles where quite by chance she discovers Stella and her daughter. We are drawn into the world of both sisters and the cousins and how their lives are so different purely because of the colour or perceived colour of their skin.
This was a fascinating story which I thoroughly enjoyed and it opened my eyes a little more regarding the terrible racism that existed then and sadly, in some cases, still does today. I awarded this book 4 stars purely because I found the ending a little unsatisfactory with some issues left unresolved but it is well worth a read.
Elite Reviewing Group received a copy of the book to review
I loved this book and raced through it. This is a novel about the hallowed bonds between twins and the realities of life as an African American woman during the 20th century. It's a unique take on racial issues and the evolution of racism and inequality in America. Though it touches on some dark themes it is also a very touching tale of the familial bonds that connect us. This is perfect for fans of The Help.
Original, engaging and impactful. A very unusual storyline that gripped from the beginning. Following the lives of identical twin sister across different race, family and career lines, and then seamlessly onto the next generation.
Not predictable at any stage. Highly recommended, excellent read.
Very well written literary drama with interesting and well-developed characters and storyline.
I really enjoyed my time and was hooked on the book all the time.
Thanks a lot to NG and the publisher for this copy.
I loved this. A nuanced and fascinating book that took us from the 1950s to the 90s, hinging around the lives of twins who leave their small Louisiana town of Mallard to break free from the restrictions imposed there. A black town where light skin is prized, one twin defies convention by marryng a dark man, and the other ends up passing for white. The story goes back and forward in time to explain the lives of their mother and their children, who of course lead vastly different lives. With a light touch, the story obviously talks about privilege and racism, but more generally about identity and opportunity. I couldn't wait to read on and I thoroughly enjoyed every stand of the book.
The Vanishing Half delves into identity - does colour, or sex, define you? Or is that just the given, and you can identify and become whoever you choose?
The book spans 30-40 years - following the lives of two young twins living in Jim Crow southern states, where being black means you can be killed without retribution. And as the title says, one of those twins decides it's time to move on.
Well written, with believable characters and good voices, this is an excellent novel.
4.5 rounded down
I thoroughly enjoyed Brit Bennett’s debut novel The Mothers, so was excited to get an advance copy of The Vanishing Half. And this doesn’t disappoint, in fact it feels like a much more accomplished novel in many ways.
The Vignes twins are born in the small town of Mallard in the 1950s and decide to run away together aged sixteen to New Orleans to escape the oppressive small town environment for bigger and better things. Several years later one sister returns to Mallard with her daughter in tow, the other doesn’t. The sisters lead quite different lives, and both raise daughters who in turn also have very different upbringings and experiences. Then one day, their lives converge once again.
Bennett tackles a lot of themes here - gender identity, race, racism, family and specifically mother/daughter relationships. I expect most readers will have a soft spot for one certain side of the family, but the strength of this story rests in the issues raised in the contrasts between the two Vignes sisters’ lives and the different paths they follow through life, with the associated consequences of their decisions, and also the impact this has on their individual daughters.
Ambitious in scope and spanning a number of decades this story had the potential to get muddled in a lesser author’s hands, but this novel is nothing but a success. I hope to see it on a number of prize longlists later this year and can’t wait to read what Bennett writes next.
I had heard a lot of great things going into this book from readers whose opinion I trust, so I couldn't wait to pick it up. It certainly has a unique premise!
This book is a multi-layered story about identity, race and how we choose to present ourselves to the world and ourselves. It was interesting and thought-provoking and explored these sensitive topics in subtle and original ways, which I very much enjoyed.
For me, The Vanishing Half started slowly and it was only when the focus shifted to Jude and, later, Stella that I was hooked. After that, I couldn't stop turning the pages as the family secrets began to unfold. I started to care about what would happen to these characters and could empathise with the situations in which they found themselves. I would give five stars to those middle sections of the book - I just wish that same emotional impact had been sustained from the first page to the last.
I would certainly recommend The Vanishing Half, especially to those who enjoy books about complicated families (e.g. Celeste Ng's 'Little Fires Everywhere') or as an interesting counterpart to Karin Tanabe's 'The Gilded Years'.
A really unusual thought provoking read, with characters you really believe in and spanning decades across American history. Reading on kindle I was surprised when I came to the end as I could have kept reading for hours more.
Thank you to Netgalley and Little Brown Book Group for allowing me the opportunity to read The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.
'A body could be labeled but a person couldn't, and the difference between the two depended on that muscle in your chest'
Brit Bennett has written such a thought provoking story. It is full bodied, emotional and revealing.
Racial identity and relationships are at the core of this novel. Intertwined with these core aspects is generations, American history, class, self hatred, identity, prejudice and ultimately - fate.
Brits character development is also superb. Desiree and Stella may be twins and forever connected but their diversity is so apparent due to Brits writing.
This story has a lasting influence and is essential reading. I think this is going to be a much discussed novel of 2020.
I thought I’d make this quick. But if there’s one new release this week (in the US) that you have to read, please pick THE VANISHING HALF. This book comes out on the 11th of June in the UK.
It’s a book about identity, skin colour, class, and racial inequality. It mainly asks if giving up your former identity, leaving family and loved ones behind, for class, wealth and security is worth it, despite the consequences faced later — because there are always consequences.
The novel is set in the 1950s leading up to the 1970s-1980s, but I could never have imagined when I first read it a few weeks ago that the sentiment against black and coloured people is not much different than current times.
I urge you to read Brit Bennett’s most recent release; if anything, it’s going to start conversations and discussions on where our identities lie based off our skin colour, and hopefully it will lead us to a pathway of healing and understanding.
Thank you to @littlebrown and @netgalley for providing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
This read came at a particularly poignant time for black culture, and helped to raise my awareness of how deeply racism flows through our society. Aside from this, the book was beautifully written and very engaging.
In particular, I felt the dialogue was exceptional, it was very natural and flowed well throughout the book. I enjoyed getting to know all the characters and was satisfied by the ending.
This books touches on many different elements of modern life, but told from a historical perspective - this is something I feel is so important in modern times because the background of some of the most despicable prejudices can be too abstract for the younger generation to understand. This story gives a new and refreshingly honest insight into how far humanity has come in the past fifty years, but also how far we have yet to go.
The fact that this story spans a generation allows the reader to truly escape and when lifting my head and looking at the real world again, I'm sad to say that not enough has changed. I am inspired by this book, and the tragic events happening around the time of release, to do more, be better, listen to the voices of black people, and learn how to use my own voice to foster positive change to the best of my ability.
With an endorsement from Bernardine Evaristo and a mention on The High Low podcast — the ultimate source of literary recommendations — it would have been wrong of me not to have read ‘The Vanishing Half.’
Stella and Desiree Vignes were born in a small black Louisiana community called Mallard, barely visible on the map. Founded by their ancestor in the mid-nineteenth century, what sets the community of Mallard apart is the fact that everyone who lives there has light skin. He wished to build a town for men like him, who would never be accepted as white but refused to be treated like Negroes. A third place.
Generations later, no matter how “creamy” their skin is or how “wavy” their hair, the twins are no more invincible to racism. Even at sixteen when they decide to run away to New Orleans, race factors into their lives and shapes their opportunities. After a few years, one sister abruptly leaves the other behind when she chooses to pass as a white woman – a decision that forces her to lie to her husband and daughter. Meanwhile, the other sister flees back to Mallard with her ebony skinned daughter who feels like an outcast because of her exceptional darkness. The choices each sister made will alter the course of not only their own lives, but that of their children’s, as well. A summary alone doesn’t prepare you for the journey you’re about to embark.
‘The Vanishing Half’ captured me from the beginning. Spanning four decades, I am in awe of how Bennett seamlessly tells her story from the alternating perspectives of Desiree, Stella, and their daughters. The regret, fear, and heartache that burden the sisters are so poignantly written that they were almost tangible. Bennett writes beautifully about race, family, grief, identity, unconditional love, class, and more without ever being preachy. The detail and delicacy aired in every sentence Brit Bennett writes is breath-taking.
Although I belong to a privileged group, similar to Evaristo in ‘Girl, Woman Other’, Bennett writes with such skill that she brought me closer to something new, something that I can never fully comprehend, but something I can only imagine causes immense heartache and fear. The media and the world around us continue to write the criminalising narrative of black people. Meanwhile, authors like Bennett are erasing their words and encouraging readers to unlearn the underlying racism that still lingers in society. Educating ourselves on universal injustices is paramount and this book truly made me think. This arresting story is wise, deep, compassionate, and any book that exposes realities and truly dares you to reflect is worth everyone’s time.
Overall, ‘The Vanishing Half’ will undoubtably leave a lasting impression on me, and it will leave the same on you, too. This was my first-time reading Bennett, but it won’t be my last. Through masterful storytelling, intriguing psychological insights, and remarkable plot twists, Bennett has created an immersive and unforgettable novel.
The Vanishing Half is probably one of my favourite books of 2020. This book is beautiful, heartbreaking, emotional and full of life, love and humanity. At the core, Brit Bennett writes about family, identity, womanhood, sisterhood, motherhood, love, and grief. The Vanishing Half packs punch as it covers themes of race, class, poverty, identity, being transgender and LGBTQ+ and more. Brit Bennett stole my heart with her writing, with her characters and with this book.
The book is about Desiree Vignes and her twin Stella Vignes who grow up in a small black community in a village called Mallard, Louisiana. When the girls reach their teenage years their lives take vastly different trajectories, as Stella abandons her family, her sister, and her identity to become a white woman, a white wife and a white mother. Desiree on the other hand marries a black man, has a black daughter and does not forget her roots in Mallard. The story begins in the 1950s, but jumps across time as we see the girls and their daughters grow up and how their lives differ and yet still intersect in different ways.
The characters in this book were absolutely phenomenal. They were written with such depth, emotion and realness that I was entirely absorbed in every moment, every detail of their story. The story of Jude and Reese was ultimately my favourite aspect of this book. Jude, who is the daughter of Desiree and Reese the boy she meets in California.
I loved Brit Bennett's use of time jumps to frame the different moments and different periods of the history of the twins and their daughters. I loved the different geographical changes that symbolised different moments and events in the lives of the characters. I loved how seamlessly she interwove these jumps in moments, the shifts in character perspectives and narratives and how it all fitted to build a picture of two lives, two histories, but ultimately one family narrative. I loved literally everything about this book.
I often find it difficult to put into words why I love books that speak to me so much, and that fill me with such emotions and thoughts. One thing is clear,The Vanishing Half offers a really powerful exploration of race and race relations as we see how being either black or white can make such a profound difference on two sisters experiences.
I would urge you all to pick up this book because it was beautiful, emotive and covered so many fantastic themes. I received an eARC from Netgalley and Little Brown Book UK in exchange for a review, but I will definitely be purchasing my own physical copy of this book because I adored it so so much.
The Vanishing Half is Brit Bennett’s second novel, after 2016’s The Mothers, her debut. According to Wikipedia, it’s been discussed as being adapted for film, with Kerry Washington attached to produce.
I know I’m old when I do some research for an author and am shocked at their age – Bennett is 30 years old and already written two books, with a third not too far off. I haven’t read The Mothers but it’s on my list after this one.
The story opens in a town called Mallard, somewhere near New Orleans but not on any map. The population there are light coloured black people, who are ginger and blonde and brunette. Trapped somewhere between black and white, not really welcome in the company of either but their own, the townspeople found their own place. This brings with it prejudice of its own, as they are encouraged, and keen to, only marry someone lighter skinned than they are.
I found the foundation of this story fascinating – for me as a white woman especially, I haven’t been exposed to that feeling, that ‘advice’, that racist view that the lighter skinned you are, the better. There was another part to it for me, the idea that even within this town where everyone is united by their skin colour, there were still prejudices and a hierarchy, when the town’s founding line marries a son in the pub business, there are mutterings about money and status. At the end of the book there’s a bit of an acknowledgements section, and Brit Bennett talks about how there are, or were, real life examples of towns like these across America.
The twins at the centre of the story are Desiree and Stella – beautiful girls who may look alike but are different in personalities. They are both united in their quest to get away from the dull place they grew up in, where their futures look like being maids and household staff to rich white people – no matter how light your skin is, black is black and in the 1950s, you are who you are, as the girls soon learn.
Without too much of a spoiler (although this is in the blurb so not too much of a giveaway, I think), the girls run off together, leaving their mother on her own. The story picks up again a few years later, when the rumour mill goes into overdrive as one of the twins returns, child in tow but no father in sight.
I loved this book for the gentle exploration into the difficulty of family. Of feeling blood related but only skin deep (and sometimes, not even that). About being born into the wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong people and ultimately spending your whole life searching for that space where you feel truly yourself.
When I first started reading, I actually thought it would be more of a murder mystery as the search for the other twin continued. It’s a bit different than that and has a much wider timespan, getting us almost up to the present day. I loved that as well, actually – a few times in the writing, Brit Bennett announces things that happen in the future, or declares that it’s the last time those characters meet. It felt much more current, somehow, and much more up to date in this way. One of my pet hates in books is too much time keeping the reader guessing – like when that Bad Thing happens, except you don’t find out about it for chapters afterwards and by then you’re so bored of the references it’s not a shock. This doesn’t do that at all – character’s fates are revealed in the next sentence, which is quite relaxing, actually.
The story also encompasses two women with a tentative friendship, trying to find their way in the world against the backdrop of 1980s America. I particularly liked Jude’s sections with ‘the girls’ – the guys who lead ‘boring, standard’ lives during the week and morph into glitzy glamour queens to sing or lipsync on stage at the weekends. These encounters are also tinged with sadness – Barry isn’t able to buy his own make up as he’d draw attention to himself and blow his cover as a teacher, so he picks out what he wants and gives Jude the cash. It’s another insight into a life I haven’t, and am likely to never will, need to experience at first hand. I can’t imagine not being able to buy what you want without being scrutinised, followed and judged. I naively hope that it’s different now, in this age, but I fear it might not be for some.
The Vanishing Half wasn’t what I expected it to be, and it was surprising for that. I enjoyed getting to know the characters, felt their sadnesses and joy with them and actually, wanted to know more about their lives – what did they do next? What are they doing now? A sign of a good book, I think. Keep an eye out for Brit Bennett!
Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC and thanks as always to the publisher, Little, Brown Book Group UK, for the digital ARC.
I picked this book up after the events of this weekend as it seemed like the perfect way to dip my toe into educating myself. Wow what a read. So well written and so interesting! I’ve never read anything by Britt Bennett but this won’t be my last. The story is around two twin sisters and moved back and forth in time and between the twins two different perspectives. The writing is beautiful and I fell in love with the story. I will be recommending it to my book club.
This is a really interesting and unusual exploration of racial and gender identity, and how our perceptions of ourselves and others are influenced by appearance. It begins in the 1950s, where twins Stella and Desiree grow up in Mallard, a Southern American town so small it appears on no map. It is distinctive for the lightness of skin of its inhabitants, who are themselves classified as “coloured” but even so are prejudiced against dark skins. The father of the twins was lynched in front of them when they were children, a brutal reminder of their place in society. As teenagers, they escape to build new lives in the city, but then Stella disappears, breaking all contact with her family, and it emerges that she has been passing as white. Desiree returns to Mallard with her daughter, who is so dark-skinned that she suffers endless disapproval and bullying, while Stella marries into a life of wealth and privilege but lives in constant fear of being found out and finds it impossible to fit in. The book raises fundamental questions- why does what we look like matter so much? Does it dictate who we are? Can we only be ourselves with our own tribe? These considerations also apply to our perceptions of gender and sexuality, as Desiree’s daughter moves away to college and befriends transexual Reece and the drag queens at a local club, well-rounded characters who offer acceptance, tolerance and love. None of this makes the book didactic, and the wider story is one of family ties, finding your way in the world and, as the narrative moves into the 1980s, making slow progress into a better future. A great read on so many levels.
Rating- 4.25/5 stars.
The twins, Desiree and Stella had vanished from Mallard (a mulatto town) 14 years ago. Now, Desiree is back, not with Stella but with her blue-black daughter Jude. Stella, on the other hand, has decided to play being white for the rest of her life, she has married a white man and has a daughter called Kennedy. But their lives are about to collide in the most unexpected ways which will make each one of them re-think their past decisions and actions seriously, sometimes even grudgingly.
But don’t be fooled by this short description of what can be called a rather long journey that each character goes through in the story. There’s a lot of drama, controversy, intrigue, politics, and romance. Though at the centre of the story is the issue of identity, identity of every kind- gender, racial, sexual, social, and economic. While Desiree and Jude live a tough life in Mallard, the twin sister, Stella and her daughter are living an entirely different life, that of a privileged white. Representation doesn’t end there; we also have a Trans side character who, I felt, was well sketched.
I hadn’t expected Stella to do the things she did which made me angry at her, but on carefully thinking, I found that my anger was probably not justified in many places. I experienced an almost exact opposite emotional shift for Desiree- from anger and dislike to pity and love. But the character I felt the most for was Kennedy, you’ll know why when you read the book. I think the author has done a brilliant job in terms of character formation and development.
This was my first time reading a book by Brit Bennet, I liked her writing and storytelling very much. Looking forward to more such books by her!
Thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown Book Group UK for providing me with an e-ARC.
I once saw a study that was done on a group of children aged 3-5. The children were from a mix of different nationalities. They gave these children headshots of other children. They asked the children to order the pictures from the most beautiful to the ugliest. They then asked them to put them in order of children who looked like nice, good children to bad and naughty children. Every child placed light-skinned children at the pretty and good ends of the scale, with the children with the darkest skin at the bad and ugly end. I found this so heartbreaking to watch - that even at such a young age, these children had already experienced racial prejudice.
Mallard is a small town populated exclusively by extremely fair-skinned black people. Set in Louisianna in the years from the 1960s to 1980s, the people of Mallard know that despite their fair skin they will never be accepted as white, but definitely believe that they are better than if they were black. They only marry and have children with other fair-skinned black people in hopes of getting lighter and lighter.
This book is a story of twin sisters who run away from the small town they grew up in and eventually go their separate ways. Years later Desiree returns home with her daughter, fleeing her abusive husband. Desiree's daughter is very dark-skinned and spends her childhood being bullied by the people of Mallard for her skin colour.
Desiree's twin sister Stella is living in LA and has 'crossed over'. Meaning that she now lives as a white woman and no one knows the truth about her past. Not her husband and not her daughter.
This was a new type of racism to me and I found it very difficult to read and review. As a white British woman, I grew up in a position of privilege where racism was not something I was aware of as still existing until I reached adulthood. Even then I imagined that racism was almost completely extinct in my lifetime, only resurfacing in isolated incidents in the United States. It has only been in the last decade or so that I have realised the extent of racism still active, How is it possible that in 2020 we still live like this? Racism is still very real today and to be judged for the level of melanin in your skin is insanity. I understand, that I can never understand what it's like to live this way.
The storyline in this book is a family drama, and it's not the most gripping storyline, however, this book reminds me of a lot of Victorian classics, where the story is not really what's important, so much as the message. The Vanishing Half is a good story, but I believe that entertainment is just the vehicle for the true message of highlighting racial injustice first and LGBTQ+ difficulties during this period as a secondary purpose.
Everybody in the small Louisiana town of Mallard has always just called them the twins. That’s what Desiree and Stella Vignes are, just like some inseparable unit. Together they grow up, together they ran away to find a better life. A big dream for two black girls in the middle of the 20th century when segregation is a fact and opportunities for girls are limited. But then, Stella finds a job as a secretary, due to her relatively fair skin, they mistake her for white and with her diligence, she suddenly sees the chance to reinvent herself. After years of playing the role of the white secretary, she is ready to turn the role into her new self, but this requires leaving everything behind, also her twin sister. The girls take different roads, but they can never forget each other completely. It will take years until their paths will cross again and until they will need to ask themselves who they are and who they only pretend to be.
Brit Bennett’s novel covers the time span from the 1950s when the twins are only teenagers until the end of the 20th century when they have grown-up daughters. It is a tale of two young girls who are connected by their looks but quite different in character, girls with hopes and dreams living in a time when chances in life are determined by the skin colour. One of them accepts things as they are, the other decides to make the best for herself of it, but the price she has to pay is high and it is also a price her daughter will have to pay, ignorant of her mother’s story. Beautifully written the author not only follows the fate of the two individuals, but she also mirrors in their fate a society in which some alleged truths are deeply rooted.
When starting reading, you have the impression of being thrown in at the deep end. Somehow, you are in the middle of the story and first need to sort out the characters and circumstances. The author sticks to the backwards and forwards kind of narration which only little by little reveals what happened to the sisters. Just as both of them are ill-informed about the other’s fate, you as a reader, too, have to put the bits and pieces together to make it a complete story. I totally adored that way of gradually revealing what happened to them.
The narrative also quite convincingly shows that you can never just make a decision for your own life, it will always have an impact on other people, too, and even if you imagine having left all behind you and buried it deep inside your head, one day, the truth will come out and you’ll have to explain yourself. Brit Bennett similarly demonstrates how fragile our concepts of race, gender, class and even identity can be. We might easily be misled because quite often we only see what we want to see and prefer looking away over confronting our stereotypical thinking.
A must read drama with strong characters but also a lot of food for thought.
I’ve read so many good books lately that I’m conscious my luck has to eventually run out. But not today... Identity is at the heart of this much anticipated second novel from Brit Barrett, set in Mallard, a fictional town in Louisiana. Mallard was established by Alphonse Decuir in 1848, “for men like him, who would never be accepted as white, but refused to be treated as negroes”. Twins Stella & Desiree Vignes, descendants of Decuir, born in 1938, have “creamy skin, hazel eyes & wavy hair”. However, despite this, they do not escape racism and witness their father being dragged from his home and lynched to death by a gang of white men.
At 16 the twins leave for New Orleans to escape a life of poverty. Its here that Stella “passes over”, by pretending to be white to get a job. I wasn’t familiar with the concept of “passing over” or “passé blanc”, a term originally attributed to Louisiana Creoles of colour who were so light skinned, they could pass as white. Stella contemplates that there’s “nothing to being white except boldness” & starts a new chapter in her life, leaving Desiree behind in New Orleans, to follow her eventual husband to Boston.
As their lives diverge, the twins lead very different lifestyles over the course of 50 years. Stella lives as a wealthy white woman, in Los Angeles, never revealing her past to her husband & daughter. Her life is split between two women, ”each real, each a lie”, never truly feeling either white or black. Desiree, escaping a violent husband, returns to Mallard with her daughter. Apart from the duality of the twins themselves, there are many aspects of identity explored in the book which contains a rich array of drag queens, transsexuals & actors. The lives of the twins two daughters, Jude and Kennedy, also curiously mirrors that of their mothers.
This is a beautifully told family saga of intertwined lives, primarily dealing with racism & racial inequality, but also telling a rich story of family, relationships and how our lives are shaped by our experiences. Do yourself a favour and read this. Thank you to @netgalley & @littlebrownbookgroup for this book in return for my honest review. Thank you also Brit Bennett for this little treasure.
‘She’d always felt like the older sister, even though she only was by a matter of minutes. But maybe in those seven minutes they’d first been apart, they’d each lived a lifetime, setting out on their separate paths. Each discovering who she might be.’
We’re halfway through 2020 and I've already found my favorite book of this year. The Vanishing Half was everything I’d hoped for and more. A unique plot,
full of secrets, complex family relationships and the exploration of important themes such as race and identity. I loved the characters and their storylines, especially those of Jude/Reese and Stella.
Brit Bennett is an amazing storyteller and I can’t wait to read The Mothers and her future work.
Just finished this amazing book!
This feels particularly relevant at the moment but this story is relevant always. It tells the story of Desiree and Stella...twins growing up in a small town they are desperate to leave. They manage to escape at 16 and their lives take very different turns.
It’s a brilliant story and the themes are definitely thought provoking. I will be making sure everyone I know reads it!
I devoured The Vanishing Half. A gripping, elegantly-plotted tale about two sisters, who escape their small-town Louisiana upbringing but choose very different paths. Ten years later, Desiree finds herself back in her home town with her black daughter, on the run from a violent husband. Stella, meanwhile, is passing as white, married to a wealthy banker who knows nothing about her background. When their daughters meet in LA in a chance encounter, the story of Stella's disappearance comes to light, and it is through the younger generation that the sisters are given a chance to reconcile. The novel moves through the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, convincingly charting the shifting racial politics of the 20th Century. It's also a hugely enjoyably read, which twists and turns, gradually sharing its secrets. Compassionate and generous, with pain shimmering beneath its surface, THE VANISHING HALF is a deeply felt exploration of identity, race, prejudice and belonging. I loved it - easily one of the best things I've read this year.
Desiree and Stella are twins growing up in a small community in Louisiana. Although they are of negro descent, they are pale skinned to the extent that they could easily be mistaken to be white. Stella is studious and reserved whereas Desiree is quite the opposite and can’t wait to break free from small town life. At the age of 16, Desiree persuades Stella to leave with her and escape to New Orleans. Initially, they settle into a new life together which subsequently falls apart when Stella suddenly leaves her sister and cannot be found. Their two stories diverge from this point as they find their own ways through life. The story explores relationships and racism against the backdrop of the twins lives. Both subjects are treated sensitively and thoughtfully in what is an engaging and compelling narrative.
Fantastic book, such amazing characters.
A story that covers race and how we identify ourselves and see people in society, whatever shape or color that is.
A truly wonderful story of love, loss and finding who we are as a person, and as part of a family.
A must read,
Bennett has done it again, a wonderful writer and storyteller.
✨ This book .... my heart was both bursting and heartbroken at the same time💓💔 𝗪𝗛𝗔𝗧. 𝗔. 𝗦𝗧𝗢𝗥𝗬 (swipe for plot 👉🏻) but wow... I just couldn’t put this book down! ✍🏻 Spanning decades and told from the POVs of Desiree and Stella, and then their own daughters; this was one powerful and thought- provoking read, where love, racism and gender identity are at the forefront. 💔 We felt EVERYTHING these girls felt throughout the pages, @britrbennett writing was just FANTASTIC 👏🏻👏🏻
✨ I was totally captivated by this book and I’m sure you will be too! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
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