Review: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

by Heather Caliendo
the vanishing half review - book club chat

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is one of the best books I’ve read this year. This is a five star must-read!

So you might notice with the book photo that it looks like the novel is partially opened. This is due to all the tabs that I placed in sections to refer back to when I write my book club questions. This is a practice I do for every novel. But I don’t think I’ve ever used so many tabs before—every chapter, even every line, was something to highlight. 

This is not just a book to read over the summer, it will be on all the best books of 2020 lists at the end of the year. The writing is exceptional and the subject matter more relevant than ever before. There are few books that truly blow me away and this one did by far. 

This is such a unique storyline. Honestly, originality it not as common as we would like with novels. So when a rare novel comes around that is truly one of a kind, it’s definitely one to savor. 

First the synopsis:

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. Many 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?

Race

As I write this, a majority of the country finally woke up to the racial injustice that is suffered by the black community. People of all races and ages are going to the streets to show their support for the black community and Black Lives Matter. Many people are turning to books to learn, listen and evolve. I truly believe that reading can get to people more so than other mediums. It doesn’t mean one book will solve all the problems but I do think it will help enlighten people on the different struggles that others go through. 

Race is a significant part of the book as the twins are in fact divided by race. You have two sisters—Desiree and Stella—identical but also different in many ways. Their skin is light as is most of the people in the town Mallard. In fact, Mallard was founded by their great-great-great grandfather who dreamed and created a town full of light-skinned people, which he believed was a place where they could truly fit in.

But the twins run away at 16. Eventually Stella leaves behind Desiree and her heritage to become a white woman as she thinks this will be the easiest path. But living a double life is more challenging than she could ever imagine. 

The past

This is a story about family and a very complicated twin dynamic. I believe it also shows how significant one’s past is and that even if you try to run from it, the past is part of who you are. Whether it’s good or bad times, the past has a big hand in shaping us. 

I think it’s also about fate. One decision has the power to completely change the trajectory of one’s life. 

This also shows how the past can impact future generations. Decisions that parents and grandparents make have a direct correlation to what the child and grandchild are experiencing. I was engaged with the twins and just as interested in how their daughters turned out—and they definitely become two very different women. But yet, they still have the family connection. So where does that leave them?

I’m not going into huge detail about the plot because I don’t want to give anything away. This story is so fascinating, heart-wrenching at times and also surprising. This novel will make you reflect on so much: race in America, identity, loyalty and the ever-lasting bond that even when very weak, is still there. The Vanishing Half is a beautifully-written novel that deserves all the stars and praise. 

Click here for my book club questions. 

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