The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half

Book - 2020
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"The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it's not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it's everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters' storylines intersect? Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person's decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins. As with her New York Times-bestselling debut The Mothers, Brit Bennett offers an engrossing page-turner about family and relationships that is immersive and provocative, compassionate and wise"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Riverhead Books, 2020
ISBN: 9780525536291
Branch Call Number: FICTION BENNETT 2020
Characteristics: 343 pages ; 24 cm


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Aug 12, 2020

A rather creative idea, Bennett creates the town of Mallard where the acceptable residents are Blacks of a light color where twins Stella and Desiree eventually separate and live their own lives. Desiree marries a dark skinned man and Stella steps into the white world where she shifts her identity and hides as a white women. It's an interesting way to present a world seen through a black women's facade of living white. The story unfolds each of their journeys and tie to family.

Aug 10, 2020

recommended by Margot

TSCPL_Miranda Aug 10, 2020

Stunning!! An unforgettable read. The Vanishing Half examines public and private identity, secrets, freedom, and family. The book begins with the story of twins Stella and Desiree Vignes, two beautiful girls who you wouldn't know were black if you didn't meet them in their small, Louisiana hometown. Mallard was founded by the twins' grandfather, and while all of the residents are black, they are all light, and that lightness is celebrated and embraced as superior to darker skin. The twins are pulled out of school at sixteen to help their mother by working and paying bills. They see a life stretching ahead of them with work, marriage, and children, so they leave to seek a different destiny in New Orleans. It is there that their paths diverge, when Stella takes a good job in a department store usually only offered to white girls, because they don't ask if she's black, and she does not tell them. Desiree sees Stella put on the identity of "white Stella" before she leaves for work, an actor playing a part. When Stella meets a white man, she makes the choice to keep her secret, leading her to a life far away from her twin, and her roots. Meanwhile, Desiree moves to Washington, D.C., where she works as a fingerprint analyst and marries a dark-skinned black man. In time, her marriage becomes abusive and violent, so she escapes to her home town to live with her mother. It would be easy for the reader to take sides, and for the author to paint Stella as one-dimensional, selfish and cold, the woman who "killed the people who'd loved her" by leaving them behind. Instead, Bennett lets us inside of Stella's head and life, too, so that we can see how she fell into the trap of isolation and lies that bind her to a false life.
Of course, the choices that Desiree and Stella made shaped the lives of their daughters. Stella has a blond daughter, Kennedy, who grows up with all of the privileges that whiteness and money provide, while Desiree's daughter Jude is so dark that she is called "blueblack." Jude does not fit in, a dark outsider in the town that her grandfather founded. She finds solace in books and education, and takes an opportunity to get out by attending college in California. There, a chance meeting leads to an encounter with Stella, her mother's twin, the aunt who vanished so long ago, and her cousin, Kennedy. After Jude reaches out to Kennedy and shows her a photo of their mothers together as young women, nothing in Kennedy's life feels real. She feels as though, like her mother, she has been playing a part.
In a compelling counterpart to the story of the twins, Jude meets and falls in love with Reese, a trans man. Like Stella, Reese chose to leave his past and his family behind, but in contrast, Reese was motivated by the need to be his true self. As Jude seeks to understand why and how Stella could have cut herself off from her family, she also considers Reese's actions, as well as other friends in the queer community who lay low or play a part to avoid persecution or exclusion.
The Vanishing Half is told with compassion for all of the characters, and though the themes of the book are serious, I found it impossible to put down. The ending is uplifting and hopeful, as the younger generation strides into a future founded on truth. I cried several times while reading this book, but the tears at the end were the happy kind.

Gina_Vee Aug 05, 2020

I loved this book. It reminds me of some of Zora Neale Hurston's writing.

Jul 30, 2020

A story about identity, lies, race, family. Light skinned Black twins run away from their small hometown and find their individual identities, one successfully "passing" into the white world, the other returning years later as she escapes her abusive husband with her daughter.

IndyPL_CarriG Jul 20, 2020

A moving novel about race, gender, and forging your own identity. Two twin girls growing up in the 60s in small town Louisiana leave and take separate paths through life. Written with a lushness describing swampy Louisiana so well you can feel the humidity, and taste the fresh fruit Desiree's friend Early brings her on hot summer evenings, and feel the energy and excitement of finding your tribe and beginning to belong in 70s Los Angeles. This is a fast, very engaging, and beautiful read.

CCPL_Carly Jul 10, 2020

In Louisiana, twin girls run away from their rural Black community to make a life of their own in New Orleans. When one of the twins disappears without a trace, the remaining sister will always be haunted - never knowing why she left and where she went. This lyrically-written novel immerses readers in a story with multiple generations, family drama, and fully-realized characters. Beautiful and timely literary fiction, suggested for readers of Jesmyn Ward and Celeste Ng.

Jun 28, 2020

WSJ recommendation

Jun 20, 2020

This novel is truly astonishing. I’ve never read a book like this and thoroughly enjoyed the depth of each character. Bennett expertly takes the reader through different moments in history. Every perspective the novel takes is compelling. I utterly inhaled this story and feel it will stick with me for a long time.


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