The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is the story of light skinned black identical twins, Stella and Desiree, whose lives end up taking very different paths after fleeing their small hometown of Mallard, Louisiana, at the age of 16 for new prospects in New Orleans. Here Stella takes a job in an office where they believe she is white, as this lie beings to take over her identity it pulls her away from Desiree. This very timely story takes place over 50 years, covering multiple generations, and set against the backdrop of political upheaval in America. It is beautifully written, the character development is rich and the questions it asks its readers are critical. Basically yes, this book deserves every bit of hype it is getting!
The small town of Mallard that the twins have grown up in is a town of only light skinned black people, who marry from within their community in an effort to keep lightening their skin. After fourteen years away, and having long lost touch with Stella, Desiree returns home after fleeing her marriage, with her young very dark-skinned daughter, Jude, in tow. Meanwhile Stella has been passing as an affluent white woman, living in LA with her husband, Blake, and blonde, blue eyed daughter, Kennedy, both who know nothing about her past. Although this story at first appears as one very much about the twins, it quickly flows through to their daughters, as they start to question the family secrets in an exploration of their own identities.
Racial passing and colourism are not new concepts in literature, having been written about as far back as the 1920’s by author Nella Larsen, however the span in which this novel takes place, and the characters within, bring about a thought-provoking modern voice to the concept. Told from the point of view of a narrator, who tells it like it is, we get character exploration in this novel so rich even the minor characters, and their connecting relationships, play detailed central roles amongst the many layers within this novel.
This book is ultimately an exploration of the binary, not just of race but of class, gender, identity. The whole notion of “passing” puts the concept of race itself into question, and Bennetts exploration of this will have you asking yourself “what does it all really mean anyway?”. This novel is a prime example of the crucial part fiction plays in bringing us important stories in a manner in which we can absorb, without personal vindication or grievance, and regardless of our own race.
This book is brilliant, and although there is much more we would love to share from within the pages of this novel, we have a firm no spoilers policy here at Bookety HQ, and so we hope this titbit of information, will have you lusting after the wonderful pages of Bennett’s thoughtful words, as much as we did.