Friday, May 21, 2021

Fiction Review: The Vanishing Half

One week early this month, a friend dropped off a surprise for me: her copy of The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett! She knew I was dying to read it, so I really appreciated her bringing it over for me. This highly-acclaimed novel is a finalist for the 2021 Women's Fiction Prize, and for good reason. It was just as good as I've been hearing: moving, powerful, and poignant. 

The novel begins in the fictional town of Mallard, Louisiana, which is described as more of an idea than a place. Its founder started the town in 1848 as a safe haven for lighter-skinned Blacks, where they could escape from being labeled and harassed by whites. In 1954, a pair of beautiful twin girls runs away from Mallard at age sixteen. They flee to New Orleans, where they live and work together for a while, until Stella discovers she can pass for white. The novel opens in 1968 when one of the twins, Desiree, returns to Mallard with her very dark-skinned daughter, which creates a stir in town. They move back in with her mother, though life in Mallard is difficult for Desiree’s daughter. The fate of the other twin is a mystery (until about halfway into the novel), though the reader knows that Stella has been passing for white and is living an entirely different kind of life. Years later, the twins' daughters' lives intersect, causing ripples through both sides of the family.


The stories here, of the twins’ lives, together and separate, and their children, are engrossing, but the novel is also fascinating for its exploration of the subtleties of racism during different time periods. Sometimes, you see the obvious racism of black versus white, but this novel also delves into the more intricate details of light-skinned versus dark-skinned and the complexities of “passing,” including the sacrifices Stella must make to live as white. The author explores how each twin’s choices affect not only her own life but that of her family and the next generation. It’s an engaging, thoughtful historical novel with lots of emotional depth. I enjoyed it very much and really want to read Bennett’s first novel, The Mothers.


343 pages, Riverhead Books


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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. It sounds great!


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  1. Thoughtful review, thanks for sharing

  2. I've actually read a couple of the books up for the Women's Fiction Prize this year so I look forward to seeing which one wins.

    1. Oooh, I need to get busy! It's rare for me to read new releases the year they come out - I was so excited when my friend dropped this off!

  3. I loved this book. I listened to it, mostly while making a baby quilt back in February, and was completely swept away by it. I actually thought the daughters of Desiree and Stella were even more interesting than their mothers :)

    1. Yes, it was very immersive! I agree - the daughters' stories were very compelling.