Appearing with a 4.45 out of 5 rating on Goodreads (my 2020 book review service obsession), “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett is a novel worthy of my own five-star rating.
“The Vanishing Half” was not on my radar until I saw this book being mentioned everywhere after its June 2 release. Having read it, I feel I must now find Bennett’s debut book from 2016, “The Mothers.”
“The Vanishing Half” is a captivating and complicated 350-page story of identical twin sisters Desiree and Stella Vignes, who struggle to try to find their place in a black and white world. At 16, the girls escape their isolating hometown, Mallard, La. (founded by their great-great-great grandfather as an exclusive place for light-skinned Blacks), where the residents grow lighter and lighter “like a cup of coffee steadily diluted with cream.”
Stella leaves behind her past and leads her life passing as white, while Desiree marries a very dark man. The novel follows the sisters’ separate lives — well, separate until their daughters’ paths intertwine and walls carefully constructed of secrets come crashing down.
The book is written in six parts, yet the stories all connect in fascinating and subtly shocking ways. I was transported to a new time and storyline before it even registered that a major plot event just occurred. Then I was racing to figure out how the two events were weaved together.
I did find Stella’s character a bit challenging, however. Her energy and determination to create an entirely new life for herself as a new person was unsettling. The lengths Stella went to keep her past hidden astonished me, even after I closed the book.
Bennett’s descriptions are rich with metaphors and emotions. Numerous sentences stuck out as uniquely powerful, such as: “Losing a twin. Must be like losing half of yourself.” The author’s writing style is engaging, and she creates characters who are flawed in all the right ways.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to someone looking for a literary escape, and I encourage readers to take the time to think and learn about the issues surrounding race that are evident in “The Vanishing Half” and in this country.