Cover Image: The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half

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Member Reviews

A stunning story of sisterhood, class and race told in beautiful, descriptive prose.  Excellent character development and perfectly paced.  A literary marvel!
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Such a lyrical read. The story swallowed me up immediately and kept me until the last page. I could see that tiny town that didn't exist on a map. Would be a great book club read.
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Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read this book in exchange for my honest review. 

This novel spanned a few decades and followed the lives of two light-skinned black twin sisters, one of whom lives as black, the other as white. It follows the different twists and turns their lives take as they become estranged, have children, and start very different lives. Great read and beautifully written.
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The Vanishing Half is set in The mythical Louisiana town of Mallard during the 1950s where this black community prides itself on their light skin color and strive to marry lighter so that each generation will be lighter than the one before. Desiree and Stella Vignes are identical twin sisters who witness their father’s lynching. Traumatized by that experience, they run away from home. Desiree eventually returns to Mallard while Stella passes as a white woman and lives a privileged life in California. 
The character driven plot explores complex relationships with multiple themes: racism, colorism, racial fluency, and gender themes. For me, Jude and Reese are my favorite characters. In spite of their individual childhood trauma, they were able to block out societal biases and I found their love story to be natural and organic. While there are many lessons and takeaways in this book, it it simply a beautifully written story with so many memorable characters. When I finished the book I immediately wanted to talk to someone to dissect the characters and story-that makes it a 5 star book for me. Thank you NetGalley for the ARC.
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The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is easily one of, if not, the best read of MY 2020.

I read The Mothers, and although I liked it, it took me a while to finish. This one, however, pulled me in and wouldn’t spit me out until I was finished. When I finished, I wanted more. Because this book is that good.

The quick rundown: Twin sisters, Stella and Desiree, disappear from their small town and form vastly different lives. That’s all I’m going to tell you because you should read this book.

This review is a bit challenging for me to write, if you couldn’t tell (lol). How many ways can a person say that she thought this book was fascinating? While the topic of passing may be new to others, it is not new to me. I grew up in a town with man similarities to Mallard, and I have heard many a story of people doing such. Bennett weaves together a story that is realistic. Sad, but realistic. One that will definitely light the book clubs on fire lol.

In contrast, my only gripe with this book is the character development. I wanted to know more. More about Jude. More about Early. Less about Stella and Kennedy (lol). Their stories are important, I know, because they show the WHY. Why Stella made the choice she made. The extreme differences in their lifestyles. The justification. I understand her why.

I am going to stop here because this book is simply good. The writing is great; the story line is easy to follow. I especially enjoyed reading the different points of view.

This book is out now. Do yourself a favor and read it.
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Two sisters are split apart by race in Brit Bennett’s stunning The Vanishing Half

As kids growing up in the deep South, two light-skinned Black girls play a game: Desiree Vignes dares her twin sister, Stella, to try hiding in plain sight of white people. When Stella discovers that she can pass without effort, the idea never leaves her that she could claim to be white herself. The sisters at the heart of Brit Bennett’s stunning sophomore novel, The Vanishing Half, were born in Mallard, a small Louisiana town where they come of age in the 1950s and ’60s. The Vignes girls’ entire identities in the community, which is known for being colorstruck—favoring light-skinned Black folk—are shaped by their proximity to whiteness.

The Vanishing Half revolves around the myths it is possible to make from our lives. Put another way, the novel reveals the lengths to which people will go for an easier life—possibly even the life of their dreams. Bennett achieves this by carefully granting us access to the deepest fears of two women who take very different paths and by showing the reach of their decisions on their daughters as well as the other people closest to them.

BOOK REVIEW

A-
The Vanishing Half
AUTHOR
Brit Bennett

PUBLISHER
Riverhead

From the story’s opening, the twins are viewed with a sense of intrigue by the Mallard community—both as individuals and, simply, as twins. That enigmatic quality continues even when it’s revealed where Stella disappears to after she and her sister escape their hometown to live together in New Orleans as young women. When Stella is mistaken for white and hired as a secretary, she vanishes into another life. The novel follows the two sisters and the very different daughters they will bear. Jude is the very dark-skinned result of Desiree’s abusive and doomed marriage. Kennedy is, unbeknownst to her, biracial; her white father was Stella’s boss before the two married and moved the family to Los Angeles.

Years later, when Desiree moves back to Mallard with Jude in tow, fleeing her husband, both mother and child become the subject of intense gossip, as Stella’s disappearance continues to hang over her narrative. Bennett expertly conveys how both Desiree and Stella fumble and triumph in their respective, separate lives, while rendering their children’s narratives fully and clearly as well. Jude, who is set on medical school, can run so fast that she earns a scholarship to UCLA, while Kennedy becomes a wayward actress. Jude finds solace and comfort in her steady love of Reese, a man whose life has also been shaped by trying to free himself from an oppressive past.


The Vanishing Half is seamless and suspenseful. The novel manages to be engrossing and surprisingly apolitical—the latter is particularly notable, as passing typically creates questions of morality or ethics even in 2020. Bennett does not write toward the propriety or impropriety of passing—she does not ask us, through Stella, if it is deceitful to pretend to be white in order to avoid the oppressions and restrictions of Blackness. Instead, Bennett writes about passing as one fraught choice Black people had for circumventing the limitations placed on them. Throughout the book, she shows the impact of those choices, intentional or unintentional, on not just an individual, but also an entire family and community. It is clear throughout The Vanishing Half that sometimes becoming someone different becomes a greater weight to bear than remaining stuck in the destiny of one’s old self.

The result is a novel that reads effortlessly. The characters and stakes are both true to the decades they span and the truths they tell about hiding or passing. There is tremendous, timeless wisdom here about what is lost when we do not allow others to see our real selves and what is found again if we free ourselves from their gaze.
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I didn't think I could love another book by Bennett as much as I did her debut! Love a good multigenerational family story.
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This book was amazing!  Brit Bennett has a way of writing that draws you into the story from the beginning.  I would highly recommend reading this book.  It would be a great book club book to read!
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"At first, passing seemed so simple, she couldn't understand why her parents hadn't done it. But she was young then. She hadn't realized how long it takes to become somebody else, or how lonely it can be living in a world not meant for you."

Identical twins (of Black heritage, but who are white-passing) diverge in adolescence and go on to live out their adulthoods assuming polar opposite racial identities. Talk about a PREMISE! I loved how much of this book talked about the difficulty of burying the past, moving away, and starting over as a new person. This deliberate, painstaking venture through self-expression was explored through many interesting lenses, particularly in Reese's transition and Stella's decision to present as white. Brit Bennett did a very nice job of creating this vivid sense of negative space in each of the novel's settings, effectively communicating the heavy absences of loved ones felt by the characters. I found this book to be a fabulous and impactful commentary on Blackness in America. The plot kept me interested the entire way through the book and the characters all felt three-dimensional and fully realized.
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To say I *loved* this story of twins sisters whose lives swerve into radically different directions in their late teens when one sister decides to pass as white is an understatement. Brit Bennett’s writing is exquisite and she gave me fresh insight into the topics of race, gender, identity, privilege, and family secrets. ⁣
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I can't think of another book where I was so emotionally invested in every single character's story. ⁣
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Book clubs, look no further for your next pick. Penetrating and powerful, this book has left an indelible impression on me. ⁣
⁣
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Like everyone else who read this book I thought it was wonderful. Yes, there are a lot of plot "twists" but they were in the service of character development, ideas, and lent both a gothic and playful feel to a book that dealt with complex issues and themes
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THE VANISHING HALF by Brit Bennett is an #OwnVoices work that explores the idea of colorism while telling the story of twin sisters, Desiree and Stella Vignes, and their children, Jude and Kennedy, across the decades since the mid-twentieth century. This coming of age story is set in a rural area of Louisiana called Mallard, originally founded in 1848 on the sugarcane fields a former slave had inherited from his white father. Bennett describes it as a town for those "who would never be accepted as white but refused to be treated like Negroes." She does an excellent job of conveying the oppressive small town atmosphere and "everyone's obsession with lightness."

As sixteen year-olds, the twins (one practical, one impulsive) run away in 1954, moving to New Orleans where one eventually deserts the other, later musing, "Why wouldn't you be white if you could be? Remaining what you were or becoming something new, it was all a choice, any way you looked at it." That decision leads to estrangement, anger, and loneliness. Secrets and lies abound, especially after the cousins Jude and Kennedy meet by chance while college students themselves. Yet, there are also elements of acceptance (both in the mother-daughter pairs and in various romantic relationships) and hard lessons to be learned: "There are many ways to be alienated from someone, few to actually belong." Like Bennett's debut novel (The Mothers), THE VANISHING HALF is likely to be an award-winner; it received starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus and is a LibraryReads selection for June. For interested book groups, Penguin has published a Reader's Guide. Definitely recommended.

Links in live post:
https://libraryreads.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/June-2020-Flyer-final-1.pdf https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/576782/the-vanishing-half-by-brit-bennett/9780525536291/readers-guide/
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I think maybe my reading machine is broken. The Vanishing Half had every element I usually find attractive: It was by turns thought provoking, funny, poignant, timely, and broad. Yet. I had to force myself to read it, rewarding myself with chapters from other books when I finished one here.
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This was a beautiful multigenerational story. I appreciated the array of narrators and how the story came together
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I absolutely loved Brit Bennett's writing in The Mothers, but I actually think I enjoyed this title more, which I didn't think was even possible. Bennett creates a deeply stunning, heartbreaking, and tender portrait of a Black American family and the events that fracture its structure and cast its members far across the country. Despite the overwhelming sense of loss based on various different events, from death to abandonment to fleeing an abusive spouse, the novel is not overwhelmed by grief, rather it is infused with love. I felt for all of the characters and rooted for the majority of them to find love, happiness, acceptance, and community. (To my glee, many of them did.) I often find books told from different perspectives to be difficult to read, since I become so attached to one perspective that I don't want to leave, but I felt myself equally invested in all of the characters. The novel also offers searing insights on Blackness (and whiteness) in America and the consequences that being racialized as either Black or white can bring. Witty and genuine, this is a book I'll be recommending for ages.
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Twins, Desire and Stella grew up inseparable. One evening they leave their small southern black community and their lives change forever.  Stella moves forward by passing as a white woman while constantly looking over her shoulder to outrun her past.   Years later, Desire returns home never forgetting the sister who moved on without her.  A stunning, unforgettable story about family, identity and how the choices we make can shape future generations.  Truly engrossing this book left me in awe and will stay with me for a long time!
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What a novel... the writing is so beautiful and the story is refreshingly unpredictable. Desiree and Stella Vignes are twins born  in Jim Crow- era  Louisiana, identical in appearance only. They live in the town of Mallard, really more a settlement of light skinned African Americans, where the residents look down at blacks with darker skin. Yet, the girls' own father is brutally murdered by white men, a crime they in part  witness as young children. Longing to escape her claustrophobic hometown, bold and impetuous Desiree convinces quiet, studious Stella to run away to New Orleans with her. From here,  their lives will take radically different paths. One sister decides to secretly "pass" for white, marrying into wealth and privilege, while the other returns to her mother's home  after escaping an abusive marriage. They both carry the burden of these decisions, passing on their guilt to their daughters. 
The novel also follows the daughters, brilliant, black  Jude and spoiled, white Kennedy from childhood into adulthood. While ambitious, I didn't enjoy these story arcs nearly as much as the first part of the novel...but I was still happy to go along on the journey.
Britt Bennett is amazingly gifted, writing such eloquent words that you want to keep rereading a passage, while at the same time wanting to race ahead to see what will happen next.
Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an advanced reader's copy in exchange for my honest review.
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I devoured The Vanishing Half. It was thoughtful, engaging, and beautifully written. Brit Bennett is an excellent writer and I can't wait to read The Mothers and anything else she writes.
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If you’re from Louisiana, you may have heard the term “passe blanc” thrown around before - a French phrase used to indicate that a black person was “passing” as white.  Such is the topic behind Brit Bennett’s sophomore book, The Vanishing Half, a stunningly evocative novel set in a racially charged Louisiana that tells the story of black twin sisters and what happens when one of them decides to live her life as white.

Desiree and Stella Vignes have grown up in Mallard, Louisiana, a black community so small it doesn’t appear on any map; however, that’s not the only thing that makes Mallard special.  Founded by the Vignes sisters’ great-great-great grandfather, Mallard is a town made for people who are not quite black, yet not quite white.  The light-skinned citizens of Mallard refuse to be treated with disdain like their darker peers, but also would never be accepted as members of the white community, thus they have congregated in Mallard, living in isolation, yet acceptance of each other.

When Desiree and Stella are forced to quit school at the age of sixteen to help their mother by cleaning houses for wealthy white families, they know they need to get out of town and build a life of their own.  One night, the sisters light out of Mallard and never look back.  They are headed for New Orleans, where their lives will diverge in ways no one can imagine.  For it is in New Orleans that Stella decides to “pass” as white, leaving behind her history, heritage, and family.  Without a backwards glance, Stella constructs a new life as a white woman, and no one has seen or heard from her since.  

The Vanishing Half begins with Desiree returning to the town of Mallard after a decade long absence with a daughter black as night in tow.  Eyebrows raise not only because no one has ever seen in Mallard anyone as blue-black as Desiree’s daughter Jude, but also because no one has heard a lick about the Vignes sisters in 10 years.  Yet Desiree can’t answer the many questions asked about her twin because Stella has vanished without a trace.  Desiree can only speculate about what has happened to her sister, never imagining that Stella has built a new life around hiding in plain sight.  

The Vanishing Half is an utterly compelling tale spanning multiple generations of a family coming to terms with who they are and what they mean to each other.  There’s Desiree, who accepts but doesn’t understand why her twin has decided to live a life without her.  Jude, Desiree’s daughter, who has taken up with a partner who is running from a past of his own.  Kennedy, Stella’s daughter, who wishes her mom would just open up to her about her childhood, not knowing she is harboring a devastating secret that would change all of their lives forever.  And then there is Stella, hiding from who she really is just for a chance to be treated like everyone else.  

I absolutely fell in love with this emotionally-intense book, and quite frankly, I didn’t want it to end.  I reveled in Bennett’s beautiful writing and imaginative storytelling, and felt completely invested in this tragic tale.  The Vanishing Half paints a convincing portrait of life in a racially segregated America not so far in our past, and shows the lengths people will go to just to gain equal footing.  Especially resonant with the current state of affairs in America, The Vanishing Half is a thought-provoking pursuit into personal identity and how it shapes a person’s life.  One of the standout novels of 2020, The Vanishing Half is not to be missed.
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I really enjoyed Brit Bennett's first book and this one is even better. I love books featuring complicated families and multiple points of view and this one has both. Desiree and Stella Vignes are light skinned black twins who grow up in Mallard, Louisiana. After they watch their father get beaten and killed by white men, their lives take different turns. Stella decides to pass as white, while Desiree embraces her heritage and marries a dark-skinned black man. Years later, their daughters, Stella's fair Kennedy, and Desiree's blueblack Jude find each other and try to make sense of their mothers' upbringing and history. This book conquers so many themes: racism, family connection, parenthood, identity and so much more. I relished every single word of the gorgeous writing and I empathized with each and every character. This is bound to be one of the most highly praised books of the year.
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