Book Review: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett


The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

 Rating: 4 stars 🌟🌟🌟🌟

 Publisher: Riverhead Books

 I very much enjoyed this! After reading Parable of the Sower I was in a deep book hangover and this was just what I needed to pull me out of it (I may be right back in that space after all). More than anything, I loved that I felt for and cared about each character. I was drawn in by all of them.

When I was a little girl, weekends and summer at my house were for old movies and on one rainy Saturday afternoon my mother sat me down to watch Imitation of Life. This was my introduction to "passing". I didn't get the entire depth but I did get that it was a thing some Black people did to "get on" (that's not to say other groups haven't done their share of this for the same reasons).

I remember thinking Sarah Jane was just awful to her mother and having absolutely no sympathy for her plight and I couldn't understand how her mother was so understanding and took all of Sarah Jane's rejection (full disclosure, my mother is a Black woman and owing to my father's contribution, she and I do not share the same skin tone). The Vanishing Half, sort of helped me understand the place of acknowledging that ultimately everyone carves out their own space and constructs the life they need to survive. We don't have to understand or even approve but acknowledge that everyone makes the decisions for themselves. Being from the same place or family doesn't mean the experience of the individuals moving through the world is the same and so reactions to it may differ. In both these works as in life, it's sometimes a hard one to swallow.

Stella was the Sarah Jane here and she was at first the one I was most interested in hearing from. She was confusing, infuriating and ultimately one of the sadder portrayals to me. I could see that from her perspective she'd done what she had to be "free" but in my estimation, she wasn't because she had to construct an empire of lies and lived in perpetual fear of being found out. Also, her being free also meant she carried out oppression and racism on others so and that was something I held against her throughout. It was vile and very well written by Bennett. Still, I was very glad Stella was able to get the education she'd always wanted (not that she couldn't have without trading herself away) and there was some semblance of solace that she let Kennedy know who she really was. I kept wondering how this story goes now in the age of DNA testing. Phenotype doesn't tell the whole story so all the Kennedy's of the world getting those results back and asking questions could make for some interesting revelations. You can't hide or deny genes.

Jude was pretty much my favourite character. I felt for her from the moment Desiree brought her to Mallard. I knew she couldn't think of anywhere else to go to flee her abusive husband but Mallard was a hellscape unto itself. Jude was ignored and ill-treated. I loved that Desiree put her mother Adele on notice on day one not to mistreat Jude but she did nothing about the mistreatment of Jude from anyone else in town and that aggravated me to no end. So Desiree had a level of acceptance of the way things were in this place that stifled her from protecting her own daughter from colourism. It wasn't white people mistreating Jude, it was a cloistered town of Black people. When Jude left for California, I was relieved and when she and Reese forged a friendship and then more, I really cheered. I loved Jude's journey. She kept trying to make sense of the family she'd come from and reconcile it all yet she remained open to getting back answers she didn't like. I could go on but I will end this part of the review by saying I stared agog when at her grandmother's funeral, people from Mallard came to see "the dark girl" and refused to believe that she was in medical school. Like, Jude was a high achiever when she was a child and they completely ignored her so they couldn't fathom "the dark girl" would leave this backward place and go on to achieve more. I actually yelled, "What the hell have you done with your lives?! And for the last time, her name is JUDE!"

Jude/Reese and Desiree/Early were great matches and I loved how they loved and cared for each other. I did feel that Blake really loved Stella and her, he but the lies she had were always a cavern he could never bridge so I wound up feeling glad when he acknowledged that after so many years of loving her he still didn't understand her and that was okay.

I could go on about this book but this isn't book club and I'm not drinking wine.

In book-likes, this reminded me of White Ivy, the forthcoming debut by Susie Yang (November 2020). And if you're so inclined, go watch Imitation of Life. In my Worst Daughters Ever list Sarah Jane is up there with Vida of Mildred Pierce.

I highly recommend this. It's my first read by Brit Bennett but won't be my last.

Summary: 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.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett

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