The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Updated: Jan 6, 2021
Rating - 10/10
This book has taken the book world by storm since its release on June 2nd, 2020. It’s a NY Times #1 best seller, and It was also the June pick for the Good Morning America book club which is a pretty big deal. My lovely friend Nicole, who is a fellow bibliophile and has her own podcast titled Shelf Life where she interviews amazing authors, gifted me with a copy of this fabulous book. Shout out to Harriet's Bookshop in Philly too for sending over this sought after read. Harriet’s Book Shop is named after historical heroine Harriet Tubman and celebrates women authors, activists and artists - how awesome! This book is probably my favorite book cover so far for 2020. It’s simply stunning! Let's get into the premise and my review for The Vanishing Half.
The Vanishing Half follows two identical biracial twins, Stella and Desiree Vignes. They grow up together in a small southern black community in the deep south. As teenagers, the twins run away at age 16 from their home in search of something more. They eventually end up separated and living completely different lives. One twin ends up returning back to the hometown they tried to escape many years later, with her black daughter, while the other twin secretly passes for being white and her white husband knows nothing of her past or her racial identity. Even though the Vignes sisters are living completely separate lives and are many miles away from each other, their fates will always be intertwined. The question is, what will come in the next generation when their own daughter’s lives and stories intertwine?
This book spans many decades from the 1950s-1990s from the deep south to sunny California, and weaves through multi-generational story lines within the family. Brit Bennett brings to us a dynamic and emotional family story that gives us much more than expected, it is also an incredible exploration into the American history of passing. It questions why people make certain choices in life, following their desires, and their expectations as well as the lasting influence of the past, and explores the reasons why some people choose to live a life completely different to their origins.
Given that this book was majorly hyped up in the literary world and everyone and their mother was reading it, I had very high expectations for it when I had picked it up. It did not disappoint one bit!! I fell in love with this book very early on and I devoured it like a tasty, decadent, rich chocolate cake. :)
The Vanishing Half is split into 6 main chapters, all spanning back and forth through various decades. I absolutely loved Brit Bennett's effortless writing style in this book. She is clearly an impressive and impeccable writer and seeing that this is now her 2nd book, I am even more intrigued to read her debut novel, The Mothers. The tone of the book was just excellent and I adored the timeless quality that this book had. The sections where the two daughters from the twins intersect lives, I thought was simply brilliant. You truly get to know both daughters very well. Both were very much different in their own ways, but seeing that they were tied together through their ancestral history and yet maintained to have some sort of relationship, it was truly realistic. Desiree’s daughter, the black girl, was an incredible character. I adored her and loved her story. I normally tend to not like books with many story lines and even though this book had quite a few characters, and many points of views, it never felt as though you got lost in any way. I actually loved how layered this story was, like peeling an onion to reveal yet another and exquisite part of the story. All the characters in this book were necessary and simply wonderful. As you can tell, there were a lot of powerful female characters in this book, but I would also like to give some credit to the men in this book as well. Bennett truly captured the way in which men can both be powerful and destructive, and also kind, loving and compassionate. I adored that aspect of the book. It sort of felt like you were doing a little puzzle piece and even though it took awhile for the pieces to find each other, eventually they did in their own way and they intertwined beautifully.
The story of the twins was incredibly riveting to read about. Each twin is very much their own person, but yet very much identical in appearance. I couldn’t get enough of their story, their history, and the women they became. You really do begin to see why they make the decisions that they make and how those choices have shaped their lives forever. You are left wondering many ‘what ifs’ in this book, but I think that is the beauty of how Bennett told the story. She left you questioning many scenarios and I adored that in her writing.
Even though racial identity is the main core story of this book, The Vanishing Half is SO much more than that. I was delightfully surprised by the many subject matters that Bennett touched on in this book. It was an amazing surprise that I would highly recommend you to discover. I also loved the cleverness of the book title in relation to the story. Brilliant! This book kept you wanting to read more and more and wanting to discover more with each page you read. You never quite knew where the story was going and I can’t believe Bennett had the power to do that to you. It was a powerful and relevant read to its time period as well as today’s present time.
The Vanishing Half truly exceeded my expectations, I adored it beyond words. It is about family, identity and relationships. It is a bold, crisp and satisfying read. It is definitely one of my favorite books already of 2020 and I now cannot wait to read her debut book - ‘The Mothers’ which also received amazing reviews. It must be hard to come out with a 2nd book after such a successful first novel, but Bennett clearly beat her own record. This would make an excellent read for any book club as there is simply too much to discuss in it, and would definitely make a great read for any person of any age, period! You will love this book and it has some of the most timeless writing I have read in a long time, sort of like reading a heavyweight classic like ‘The Color Purple by Alice Walker’. I will definitely re-read this book years from now. A huge huge must read! 10/10.
For my song pick for The Vanishing Half, I wanted to pick a song from this nostalgic time period of the 60s, I also quite liked the aspect of the book being based in the deep south and wanted a soulful song that matched the vibe of the book. I feel that this song truly reflects the relationship between the two twins and the push and pull relationship they have with one another, as well as the struggles they carry deep inside them which no one can feel or see except them. My song pick for this book is - 'The Tracks of my Tears' by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. Classic tune.
Genre: Historical Fiction | Contemporary Fiction | LGBTQ Fiction | Coming of Age
Originally Published: June 2, 2020