Publication Date: June 2, 2020
Publisher: Riverhead Books
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?
Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.
There were many aspects of this book that I enjoyed. I am not someone who enjoys “historical” books, whether that is in the 1950s or not. However, I think this book was very “timely” and relevant to current situations. It was a story that I hadn’t heard before and that made it all the more interesting to me.
Starting in Mallard, Louisiana, we learned about the Vignes sisters, Stella and Desiree. Their main goal was to leave the town of Millard. After they did, we take a look into their separate lives as one of the sisters passes off as a different color. You see how different their lives become pretty quickly. Desiree moves back to Mallard with her daughter after leaving her abusive husband. I thought this was going to be the most significant part of this book, but then we move on from that quickly and have a plot change.
Stella’s life went different because she “passed” off as white. We see the differences pretty quickly and how significant they were. She develops a friendship with a Black family across the street, but she was so scared to be found out. You can see how her life is so complicated because she’s pretending to be someone she’s not. Personally, I think this was the best part of the book. There was a lot of switching up, but this part had the best detail and information throughout.
There was something that felt off to me in this book – and that was Jude and Reese. Reese is a transgender man who passes as a straight cis man to others. I feel like there were times where trans-passing and racial-passing were classified in the same category and I’m unsure I liked the way that made me feel when reading. This section of the book confused me quite a bit, especially when giving detail about their lives socially. I didn’t understand how the acceptance levels were portrayed in this book at all.
Overall, I think without all of the extras that this book gave me, I would’ve rated it higher. The plot being switched up multiple times wasn’t good for me and just the overall feelings I got from Reese and Jude made me rate this book lower. This was a powerful book, but definitely just not for me.