Cover Image: The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half

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Member Reviews

So beautifully written! Weaves seamlessly through time and perspective, telling a complicated story of sisters and mothers and daughters and race. Will be recommending this one a lot!! 

Thanks to NetGalley and Riverhead Books for an advanced copy of this book!
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Thank you Netgalley for an advance copy of the this book. I love books with deep character developed and The Vanishing Half did not disappoint. Not just about twin sisters who separate as young adults, The Vanishing Half  has a cast of characters that are all trying to figure out who they are. The racial themes are presented in ways I've never read before. I started reading this at 10 pm and closed finished at 3 am. I couldn't put it down.
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This was an interesting and thought-provoking book. I had some expectations, partly based on incomplete information...I had seen remarks comparing it to Toni Morrison and James Baldwin, so I thought it might be a real challenge for me (since I’ve been in less than perfect health and under treatment, I feel like my brain doesn’t work as well so complexity is hard for me). But just a glance at the reviews on Amazon showing stars in the 5 range made me eager to get reading, so I jumped right on it when Penguin/Riverhead and NetGalley provided a copy in exchange for my honest review. 

The book is about identical twin girls who run away from home at age 16, and follows their lives from the 1950s to the 1990s. They are “the Vignes twins,” Desiree and Stella, who grew up in Mallard, a town described as a place “...for men like him, who would never be accepted as whie but refused to be treated like Negroes.” The town was populated by light-skinned African-Americans and has been very hard on their family. Their father “had been so light...but none of that mattered when the white men came for him.” After their mother tells them they have to leave school and go to work to help support the family, they leave, going first to New Orleans, until Stella disappeared. Desiree goes off, marries a VERY dark man and has a very dark daughter named Jude who she brings with her when she comes back home to escape an abusive marriage. Stella, in the meantime, passes for white and goes off to live in California, where she too has a daughter, who is something of a classic spoiled LA brat. 

The story is told in chapters that focus on Desiree, Stella, Jude, and the spoiled one whose name I can’t remember, with lots of detail about their families, their communities, and their racial identities. I loved all that, and was fine until (as the publisher’s blurb asks, “What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters' storylines intersect?” It’s that intersecting storyline thing that derailed it for me. I’m not sure how it might have gone otherwise, and I didn’t expect the level of involvement that happened between the daughters. I think I was just too entranced with Stella and Desiree, and didn’t really care enough about the daughters...but in any case, I think it will be a good pick for book clubs, as it explores so much in terms of family, trust/honesty, gender/sexuality, and race relations. Maybe too many topics in the second generation? Her writing is terrific, but for me there were just too many issues and convenient intersections between the twins’ two daughters. Three stars.
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NetGalley ARC | One of the most thought-provoking and talked about titles of the summer, don't miss The Vanishing Half with poignant commentary about racism, race, and families.

I love historical southern fiction (and they head to CA and NYC), and Brit Bennett does not disappoint.

You can find my complete review on The Uncorked Librarian:

Thank you so much to the author and publisher for providing me with a free copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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There's a small town in Louisiana, settled by blacks, whose descendents have carried on the tradition of essentially trying to breed themselves into light skin.  Some hundred years after the founding of the town, twin girls are born, who are inspeparable at birth, but after running away to find a better life, they realize that they are not so inspeparable as everyone thought.  In fact, they can separate so far from each other that one can choose to live as a white woman, while the other returns home.

The question of whether the sisters reunite, and whether Stella, who passes, ever reveals the truth about her background to her husband and daughter pulls the reader through the novel.  Stella and Desirée, her twin, and their daughters, one raised in the Jim Crow south, and the other in a life of privilege in Los Angeles, are characters that will not soon be forgotton.  Not everyone will love this book (although there's a lot to love), but everyone will come away from it asking questions about race and identity and how the two intersect.
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A startling and thoughtful look at the concept of outward appearances vs. inward realities especially with regard to race and gender. Told through the eyes of identical twin sisters, one of whom chooses to deny her race and pass as white, while the other remains in the small Louisiana town where they were raised. Their worlds collide when their daughters unwittingly become friendly, and secrets and lies must be confronted. Bennett’s style instantly draws the reader into this multi-generational look at identity and the qualities that define us.
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I really loved this book. Powerfully written with a compelling story, it made me question if such a place existed. The bond between the twin sisters was beautifully portrayed and all the characters were complex with individualized stories. I loved them all, flaws and strengths.
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Brit Bennett's sophomore novel is beautifully written and provides another interesting perspective into the lives of people different from myself. The themes of identity were fascinating, and I really enjoyed viewing Stella's and Desiree's paths and how their decisions affected their daughters' lives, and then how those daughters forged their own paths. Definitely recommend, and the audio was impeccably produced.

I received this as an early review copy from NetGalley and Riverhead Books. All opinions are my own.
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Would you give up everything for freedom and safety, even if that means leaving your family forever? If you had the chance to heal your family, would you? 

Vanishing Half is a brilliant novel that shows how two generations’ lived experiences and choices can affect multiple people for decades. 

When you’re a societal “other” you survive by wearing masks. Sometimes that mask is your chosen identity, but it’s also what others ascribe to you. Sociologists call this coding. For example, our character Stella is Black but so light-skinned that sometimes other characters mistake her for White when she’s in town. They’re coding her as White. This is why racial/ethnic identity is so nuanced. Part of it is your upbringing, the culture that you absorbed but a formative part of racial/ethnic identity has to do with what others perceive your race/ethnicity to be.

Brit Bennett expertly shows the readers how coding functions in America. In her debut novel, Bennett is able to explore the tenuous and ridiculous racial structure white supremacy created. To be clear, Bennett is not making white supremacy or race a joke in her novel. However, there is some underlying satire here. It’s funny that a marginalized person can pull the wool over their oppressor’s eyes, showing them that their made-up hierarchies are unfounded. 

The cherry on top? White people don’t even know what Black people look like. When Stella is passing in public the only person who can clock her are other Black people. It’s like my dad says, “a Filipino can spot another Filipino.” Blood recognizes blood.

Vanishing Half explores performance: racial, on the stage, gender, playing people’s expectations, etc. To a certain degree, each character is performing. Regardless of the type of performance, the characters’ identities become entangled with their act. This theme is brilliant and woven throughout the novel with such care.

Here are my gripes. The opening of the novel was slow. It was hard to get into. The narrative felt so distant when it opened with the twins. We are introduced to these characters as a set without individual thoughts or desires. They even escaped their small town, Mallard, together. Everything they did was in synch, except the fact that Desiree would pretend to be Stella, but Stella would never pretend to be her sister. Slowly, the reader learns that Stella has run away from even her twin. The reader follows Desiree as she goes back home after a tumultuous marriage, still keeping an eye out for her sister. 

My expectation was that we would follow the sisters more and even get the perspective of the twin’s parents. Again, the narrative was distant in the opening chapters to withhold information from the readers. It was authorial deception that I resented because I was so curious about the twin’s parents. 

But then Jude is born. That’s when the narrative becomes intimate.

This story is about the twins and the emotional/psychological damage that occurs after racial violence, yes. But this story is more so about Jude. The story blossoms when this character is introduced. Jude is the connective tissue in her family. She deeply knows her mother and Maman. After disappearing for decades, she stumbles upon her aunt Stella and befriends her daughter. She’s the unlikely hero of the novel. The densest chunks of the novel is devoted to Jude. After all, there would be no plot if she hadn’t chosen to go to school in L.A. Her actions and choices affect her entire family in major and minute ways. She is the narrative’s healer, literally and metaphorically.

Arguably, Jude’s foil is not her cousin the whitest white girl you’ve ever met. Jude’s foil is her aunt: Stella. Stella decides to rip her family apart. Stella decides to lie and perform for survival. Stella chooses a partner on top of the social hierarchy for her own protection—despite never feeling safe. She is the blade that splits apart from her family because she cannot endure the strife and needless pain that is projected onto them because of who their ancestors are.

This book needs to be read. It has so much to say and it deserves to be heard.
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This book was brilliant. Bennett's writing is one that will get better with each book. The story of two twin sisters,  who are Black, light-skinned living in a small town, one going off to pass as white and the other always wondering where her sister is.

It's a book about decisions that will affect your life forever,  colorism,  privilege, and so much more.
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While I don’t typically read multigenerational novels, I thoroughly enjoyed this one! Brit Bennett’s writing style flows smoothly and she is amazing at character development. Highly recommend!
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Gorgeous prose, spans generations and geography. The kind of epic, family saga I'm a sucker for. Thoughtful commentary on colorism in American culture.
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I am not sure I have the words to sufficiently express the expanse of this book, and how much it left behind in my mind and heart. I don't think I was fully prepared for it really. We have a small small town in Louisiana with twin sisters that are black, but can pass for white. One of them chooses white, the other chooses black and their lives could not be more different. 
This book examines race, family, society, culture, identities, love, gender....and does it so so well. 
I had not known anything about all the hype surrounding this book prior to reading, but now? Believe the hype. 
An amazing 5 stars. One of the top of the year so far.
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3.5 stars! Unique, emotional, bittersweet.

Spanning from the 1950s to the 1990s, this is a multi-generational family drama. The Vignes twins are identical, yet they couldn’t be more different in personality. One sister lives with her black daughter, the other secretly passes for white, and her husband knows nothing of her past. Separated by many miles, and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. The point of view alternates between Desiree and Stella, and their daughters as they all search for meaning in life, race, and identity.

This was such an interesting story, its very character driven. I didn’t care for the timeline jumping around, and I felt the ending was cut short. But lots to discuss, this would be a great pick for book clubs!
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If you’ve been hesitant to read this because of the hype, let me tell you, it’s worth EVERY OUNCE of hype it’s receiving... and maybe even more! It’s god a 4.49 rating on @goodreads guys... that’s maybe the highest rating I’ve ever seen.
The Vanishing Half is beautifully written, poignant, heartbreaking, and engaging. I was invested in every single character. Britt Bennet @britrbennett beautifully tackles race, gender, and sexuality — all of that in a book that takes place decades ago. Relevant, right?! Anyway, I’m here to tell you, thus far, this book is tied with Valentine for my favorite book of 2020. It’s *that good* and I suspect would make an *excellent* book club read. Order this one, immediately!
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I was a huge fan of The Mothers, so it wasn’t a surprise to me that The Vanishing Half was just as engaging and wonderful. I couldn’t put it down, finished it in one day which is high praise indeed from a mom of a high needs toddler!! I am white so it was fully an outsiders perspective I brought to the idea of crossing over from Black to white, but it was heartbreaking to read from pretty much everyone’s perspective. I have seen some negative reviews of her books on the idea that “nothing happens” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s not a traditional satisfying end point, but that just underlined the richness of the human experience and how our loves weave in and out of one another’s with no solid answers or satisfaction sometimes.
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This book is fascinating on so many levels.  I always knew there was racism within the black community, but Vanishing Half is a full and blistering exploration of the animosity between light and dark skinned  blacks.  The idea that an identical twin would sacrifice everything, including the intense bond with her sister, in order to pass as white is both heartbreaking and telling.  I also loved how the issue of gender identity was included, but more as just a matter of fact as opposed to being the source of great drama or trauma.  I loved how Jude and Reese just WERE, and that the stumbling blocks in their relationship were unrelated to Reese’s gender.  Even though it might have been nice for Desiree and Stella to have a happier ending, I actually appreciated that everything was not neatly tied up.  Perhaps we’ll hear more about these characters?
 In any even, there is A LOT to chew on and ruminate over, so I look forward to recommending this to many patrons and book groups.
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Desiree and Stella are twins who are born in small-town Mallard. Mallard is a town that contains only black people, but they are light-skinned black people. One night, the girls see their father getting hanged in their own home by a group of white men. He survives, but has to be taken to the hospital, where the same group shows up and shoots him in the head. This is the moment the girls know they must get away from the town. As older teenagers, they decide to leave in the middle of the night. Once they are on their own, they try to make a life working and doing what is needed--until Stella realizes that she can easily pass for a white woman and falls in love with her boss. She leaves Desiree and moves to California, never speaking to her family again. As an adult, Desiree must come back to Mallard after escaping an severely abusive situation. Both women must live with the choices they have made, until one day they are reunited for a short period of time. This book was heartbreaking and upsetting, but also had the element of hope. I loved it!
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Here is a touching story of the two very different lives experienced by twins sisters, and yet another facet of racism's harmful effects.
If you enjoyed this, you may like Nella Larsen's two short novels Quicksand and Passing, often found together in one book.
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This was so well written, it’s not fair. Brit Bennett is a master at her craft. Period. Full stop. I loved every aspect of this book, the relationships, the trauma, the time jumps are all done masterfully. She is quickly becoming my favorite author, and I can’t wait for her next book!!
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