I saw The Vanishing Half on several book lists and saw it on tables at bookstores. The cover caught my eye and I just knew I had to read this book. After reading through the book once, I sat still. I needed a moment to process what I’d read because this story was very different from any book I’ve ever read. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet is the story of Stella and Desiree Vignes, twins who run away from a small town in Louisiana for a more exciting life in New Orleans. Years later, one twin is passing for white and the other is still living as Black.
I think what really stood out to me in this book was the pacing. This story pushes and pulls through time in an unpredictable way. Instead of separating these memories into chapters, they flow in and out of conversations and thoughts. As a character shares a memory in a conversation, Bennett takes us into the memory itself. Through this, there are more details than if the character were to simply share it in the dialogue.
The story is very much about the twins, but other characters become the narrative focus at different times telling many stories within a story. The subplots had as much depth as the main plot, without overpowering it. I’ve read books in the past where I felt the main plots and characters got lost because there was just too much going on, but I didn’t feel this way about this story. I think Bennett did a great job of weaving these stories together in a way that gave them all importance and tied well with the main plot and characters.
Although colorism is a powerful theme in the book, there are many other topics such as racism, survival and sense of self that work with it. When the twins separated, they were apart for the first time in their lives. Their identities were always tied with one another, but suddenly they weren’t. I found it very interesting to see how they dealt with the separation even while still very much bound emotionally. There were also many parallels not just with the twins, but with other characters in the story as well.
When I come across books I really enjoy, I always read them again. Each time I have reread this story, I make new connections with it. I think readers can find characters, topics, and situations they can relate to because this book embodies so much. There were moments of happiness and relief, but also moments that felt raw and personal. If you are looking for a good drama or story for a book club, I think you will really enjoy The Vanishing Half. If you’re interested, buy here on Amazon!
Spoiler Alert- The discussion section below contains a lot of spoilers as this is the part of my review where I discuss specific points of the plot with detail and quotes. Continue scrolling at your discretion.
I wanted to go in depth with some points in the story that made me very curious. This entire story was very thought provoking and after reading it the first time, I looked through it a few more times to see if I had missed anything important. While I would love to go deeper with the whole story, I’m just going to focus on 3 parts.
It was obvious to me that Stella enjoyed being friends with Loretta Walker and I think this friendship was one of the most comforting things she had experienced after passing because it allowed her to be more free. With Loretta, she was able to relax and not think so much about pretending. She even told her about having a twin, which was a very tightly held secret. At this point, I really thought she might open up more in general. I thought she would be a little kinder to other Black people or tell someone about her identity. I was disappointed when the friendship ended, but not surprised. What surprised me were Stella’s disgusting comments later. Her implication that Reginald had looked at her in a certain way was a very dangerous one resulting in a child being injured and the family moving away. Part of me wonders if she was not just acting out of fear, but also retaliating against Loretta for ending their friendship.
For months after the Walkers left, she’d fallen into a depression that was deep even by her own standards. She was grieving for reasons she could never explain. Like she’d lost Desiree all over again.Page 223
Stella and Kennedy
It’s interesting to me how Stella’s decision to pass affected her relationship with her daughter. This isn’t something I have ever thought about when I would hear stories of passing. For Stella to assimilate as a white person, she had to cut off all connection to her black life, including her family and memories. Although she lies to Kennedy about her past and attempts to evade her questions, Kennedy still knows her mom is lying despite having no concrete evidence at first. I don’t think Stella predicted that their relationship would be so strained because of this. She still wanted to be close to her daughter, but acted as though the only way to strengthen this relationship is for Kennedy to be more like her. Stella wanted Kennedy should be more diligent in hiding the same way she was. Kennedy was able to live more freely as a white person because that was all she knew. The only reason she was able to do so was because Stella wanted it that way.
She’d sacrificed for a daughter who could never learn what she’d lost.Page 229
I knew Jude would have a difficult time in Mallard as soon as Desiree brought her there. I can relate to growing up in a place where not many people look like me, but I wasn’t as alone as Jude. I think Jude did an amazing job of trying to move forward with her life, but there were still scars from what she went through. Jude’s “relationship” with Lonnie was terrible for a couple of reasons. Besides the fact that he had been bullying her for years, this arrangement further hurt her self-esteem and enforced the idea in her mind that men would only tolerate being around her in the night because of her skin. She tried to apply this same reasoning with Reese before realizing he genuinely cared about her.
Jude preferred Lonnie’s bullying to his disregard. After watching her father abuse her mother, she grew to normalize the behavior. On the other hand, her father made her feel special because he wasn’t abusive to her. “He wasn’t her father and never would be, a man whose violence had not yet reached her, whose anger pointed everywhere but at her. Her father made her feel special, and she hadn’t felt that way until Lonnie kissed her behind the barn” (page 112). These thoughts were so disturbing. I was relieved when Jude met Reese and he treated her well and showed her a different type of relationship. I could see that some of the softer aspects of relationships such receiving compliments or affection confused her. However, she didn’t push Reese away because of how their relationship differed from what she was used to. She took steps forward to cultivate the healthy and loving connection she had not seen.
Better to picture Lonnie beating on her. That other thing- that soft part- terrified her even more.Page 86
There is no particular reason why I picked these three parts of the story to go into detail about. There were many parts that I could have given my opinion on, but it would have taken forever to write this review. Let me know how you feel about the story and what stood out to you in the comments!