Cover Image: The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half

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Bennet's first work was better. This one was okay. But, it felt like it was missing something. The characters had ordinary and extraordinary lives all at same time. It was a good, but unsatisfactory story.
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This book is so important for this time of racial injustice and unrest.  Twin sisters, Stella and Desiree, once so close they slept in one bed, leave their home after sharing so many experiences, including the lynching of their father.  Stella disappears, and Desiree ends up going back to the small town she came from, a daughter in tow.   Desiree lives as a Black woman, although light skinned, while her daughter is dark Black.  Stella passes as a white woman, and the difference in their lives and families are stark and telling.  Well written and thought provoking, I recommend this novel.  Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.
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Brit Bennett's second novel, The Vanishing Half (after The Mothers, her 2016 bestselling debut), follows Desiree and Stella Vignes, identical twins born in 1938 in Mallard, Louisiana, a town so small it can't even be found on a map. Settled by the girls' ancestors, the town prides itself on its residents being primarily African Americans with very light skin tones (the lighter, the more prized). The girls run away to New Orleans when they turn 16. Desiree returns home 14 years later with her eight-year-old daughter, Jude, whose skin is so dark it's blue-black, touching off a firestorm of gossip and invective that impacts both mother and child. Stella, on the other hand, disappears without a trace, reinventing herself as a white woman with no family and no past. Marrying outside her race she gives birth to Kennedy, a blond, blue-eyed daughter. As Jude and Kennedy reach adulthood, each seeks to establish her place in the world and to uncover the secrets of her mother's past.

The narrative explores many important topics through the lives of these four women. Covering the time period from the World War II era through 1986, the author portrays the changing face of racism in the United States as exhibited not only by whites, but within Black communities as well, with light-skinned Blacks discriminating against those who are darker. Bennett also addresses the themes of family, identity and privilege, and illustrates the evolution of women's rights during this time period. That seems like a lot to tackle within one short novel, and in less-skilled hands the story might have become a slow plod, weighed down by its heavy themes. The author interweaves these subjects and others so skillfully, though, that the narrative soars, and it's only on reflection that one realizes its remarkable depth.

The Vanishing Half is captivating in large part because of the fully-realized characters Bennett has created. The women grow and change over the course of the story as they deal with loves and losses, joys and disappointments; they feel like real-life people we've met, and we grow to care deeply about them. Not only are the four central characters drawn with a fine pen, even minor characters are imbued with complexity, adding to the novel's richness.

The other highlight is the author's vivid writing style. While seldom using colloquialism in her text, she nevertheless captures the lyricism of Southern dialog throughout her prose:

[The residents of Mallard] weren't used to having a dark child amongst them and were surprised by how much it upset them. Each time that girl passed by, no hat or nothing, they were as galled as when Thomas Richard returned from the war, half a leg lighter, and walked around the town with one pant leg pinned back so that everyone could see his loss. If nothing could be done about ugliness, you ought to at least look like you were trying to hide it.

Truisms abound, adding further flavor to the narration; for example, Desiree despises the local boys because "nothing made a boy less exciting than the fact that you were supposed to like him," and "the Mallard boys seemed as familiar and safe as cousins." Later, she doesn't tell her mother about her marriage because, she thinks, "What was the point of sharing good news with someone who couldn't be happy for you?"

My only complaint is that I found the plot overly dependent on coincidence. One accidental meeting over the course of a novel, OK, perhaps; maybe even two such encounters would be acceptable. But there were at least four major turning points that relied on unlikely circumstances, which seemed a bit much. I did enjoy the direction the author took her story, but the repeated reliance on this plot device cast a shadow on an otherwise exceptional work.

Regardless, The Vanishing Half is one of my favorite novels of the year; it's entertaining, fast-moving, has great characters, and Bennett's writing style is absolutely stellar from start to finish. Fans of novels such as Alice Walker's The Color Purple, Kathryn Stockett's The Help, or The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd will almost certainly enjoy this one as well, as will those interested in reading about mother-daughter relationships. The book would also be an ideal choice for book groups.
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A good book club selection, a timely read considering the current race issues occurring in the US.  The writing was very well done, the characters so interesting as they struggled to find themselves.
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This is perfectly written and I wished it never ended, pushed myself to read it slower, rereading some chapters over and over! It’s phenomenal and one of the best readings of the year!
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An absolutely must-read in 2020: Twins born in a small Southern town run away to escape a sad and predetermined life. One sister goes off to marry a dark-skinned man and have a daughter. While the other twin decides to pass as white and live a life free of the burdens of racism. Neither gets the life she expected, and their paths cross when their daughters have a fated encounter in L.A. 

This is a fantastic look at the consequences of systemic racism in America. We can see both sides of the same coin as the twins navigate their lives. The characters are complicated and honest. The story is fast paced and thought-provoking. Highly recommend!
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Excellent book — so many questions and thoughtful insights as to what makes a good life — what is an authentic life? Twins that separate at adults to one deciding to pass - and their lives and daughters take us through 3 generations of family, love, loss, and pain.
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An intimate and caring depiction of fraternal twins who have taken on two different lives as Black women from the American South. As one sister attempts to heal a family legacy, another does everything to remove herself from the wound by passing as a white woman.

Bennett writes with loving care in describing the choice one makes when passing and denying their heritage and ancestry in a way never read before.
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If you're a fan of Brit Bennett's work, then you already know that you should be prepared to feel devastated once the book ends.
Bennett is a master at writing not just family dynamics and the complexity of it, but also the complication of racial inequalities and what they do to families.
In The Vanishing Half, two twins have been separated both by ambition. society and the desire to be someone else. Years later they will meet again, but their lives have taken drastically different turns and they don't recognize who the other has become.
Bennett doesn't pen a "feel good" family reunion, but instead the messiness of trying to put together puzzle pieces that no longer fit and how sometimes the meaning of family, isn't what we think.
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It was just ok for me. I think it might make a good book club discussion though.. What would you do if you could pretend to be someone else?
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A compelling story  that keeps you mesmerized until the end. Very timely with our current race relations. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
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A great, thought-provoking read. I've always found 'passing' a fascinating aspect of racial identity. I'm familiar with other books that explore passing, but using siblings (twins, specifically) made the story unique and it presented a lot of situations that prompted me to do some self-reflection regarding privilege and my own experiences.
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I can't stop thinking about this book. I realized in the final pages just how much the narrative shifts voices within chapters and shifts eras, but I never once felt defeated by it. The structure felt like natural thought, like when you remember something from childhood, which led you to think about school, which led you to think about a classmate, and so on. I think this works because the reader gets to spend many, many pages dedicated to each character, getting to know them. 

Attached is a talk with Brit Bennett and Glory Edim from The Strand that I got to emcee (virtually). Enjoy!
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This is a thought provoking book about race, sexual identity, acceptance in world that can be cruel if you don’t fit the norm. Unfortunately, I could not identify with the characters and I started skimming.  I feel the book is well written but just not a good fit for me. 3.5 stars Not posting to Goodreads since I did not finish the book.
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What a beautifully written and timely piece of fiction about motherhood and sisterhood, colorism, gender constructs, and societal norms. Gorgeous writing and intensely thought provoking.
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This was such a unique story.  I loved the characters and how the story unfolded.  I wish our library book club was meeting during the pandemic because this story is rich for discussion.
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This was amazing. The two story lines were impossible to put down and kept me interested to see how they intersected. Having the second generation meet and the diversity of characters was an added authentic element.
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This was so beautiful written. I couldn't put it down. I loved the relationships between the sisters and daughters. I understood everyone's decisions, despite how heartbreaking. I really cared about everyone and their journey. It was sad but also beautiful. Such a wonderful book.
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Goodreads review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3323730635

I do not know how to review this book! What I do know is I loved how it made me feel while reading it.

The Vanishing Half felt big and sprawling, with so many complex and beautiful characters across different time periods and places. I've just finished and it's going to take me a long to process. The book is about escape, and return, and escape, and return, and looking at yourself, and refusing to look at yourself, and then seeing yourself again. Accepting that someone you love is alive but lost but there, too.

Ooof, this book got me in my heart and my gut. The whole time I read it I could see it cinematically. Brit Bennett is a fucking storyteller. Masterful. You can sense her wisdom all over this work. She creates complete, real worlds and human beings... I just floated through her writing in awe and pain and joy. The stories were told with such love and care and compassion... I mean, my heart HURTS thinking about these characters. Do not get me started.

Whatever Brit Bennett was paid for this book isn't enough, doesn't matter what the number is. And I will read literally ANYTHING she writes in the future. I cannot wait to see what she gifts us next. I will give myself over to Brit Bennett and she can take me wherever she wants to go! Brit Bennett deserves all the love she's getting for the Vanishing Half.

Don't miss this one, people.

Thanks to #NetGalley and Penguin Group - Riverhead for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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I'll admit it: I came to this book with great skepticism. I am not a huge fan of multi-generational family stories (to put it mildly) but I had heard so many good things about this book already that I couldn't help but give it a try. And I'm really, really glad I did because this book is amazing. Not only is it incredibly engaging, but it manages to say so much in such a deft way that you never feel bogged down or overwhelmed while reading. Because, honestly, there is a lot to dissect here, and yet the way Bennett writes it never feels like she overstuffed the book; rather it reads quickly, propelling you along to the next scene, the next chapter.

If I have any complaints it's my standard one for this type of book: which is that I think that some of the characters/time periods deserved a bit more air time than they got. There were also some transitions between scenes/time period that felt a bit wonky to me, and the ending was not quite as strong as I would've liked. (One element in particular, regarding the twins' mother felt super pat to me, although not as much as it could have in a lesser writer's hands.)

But all these things aside I found this to be a very enjoyable read, and well deserving of its hype. I would recommend this to anyone, even those who are normally leery of family saga type books.
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