I’m Reading…The Vanishing Half

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Summary From GoodReads

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.

My Thoughts

I picked up The Vanishing Half at the library as part of our Lucky Day Collection. I did not know what to expect with this book and was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed every minute of reading this book. The themes in the book are relatable as they were back 40 years ago when the story took place, to now. The overarching theme of the book that I took away was identity. Brit addresses the issues of colorism, Gender identity, and who exactly am I. All the main characters grapple with this existential problem. 

We are first introduced to the twin girls Stella and Desiree Vignes. They live in an extremely small town, called Mallard down near New Orleans, of Black people who are light-skinned enough to pass for white if they wanted to. The “twins” which everyone in town refers to them up and leave. At that point, the stories of Stella and Desiree diverge. Desiree going up North and Stella moving around but as a white woman. The story centers around these two sisters and the separate lives that are drastically different. Serendipitously, their daughters find each other. Jude, dark-skinned and lived with her mother, Desiree; never being invited to anything and lonely. Kennedy, white who doesn’t know what to do with herself but has all the privilege.

As a Black person, you always hear whispers of family members or friends of the family who passed as white. However, to see it depicted in the book is something else; it made it tangible and objective. As readers, we see Stella secretly enjoyed that she got away with it, and as she continued to do it being swept up in the whirlwind of lies begetting lies. Readers get to see the extreme lengths and paranoia Stella goes through to maintain her whiteness. Desiree pining after her sister for decades and never really moving on until the end of the book was a little disappointing but reflective of real life. At times, we feel there is something holding us back or in place until there is visceral relief either by death or an open and honest conversation. 

Jude and Kennedy, unfortunately, symbolize the burdens children oftentimes have to carry because of their parents. Jude basically was the manifestation of the intolerance the town, mother, grandmother had of dark-colored Black people. I would argue that Desiree’s marriage to Jude’s father who was dark was an act of rebellion; which her daughter had to pay the price. Jude grew up in Mallard with a complex of being ashamed of her skin color and she would never be properly loved. I was so happy when Jude and Reese got together. Kennedy is the exact opposite. Kennedy grew up with no limitations; everything was handed to her. She never wanted to for everything. This allowed her to leave relationships and jobs when they no longer suited her. However, it caused tension with her mother Stella. Stella having grown-up Black and relatively poor did not possess the cavalier attitude like her daughter. Who for all intents and purposes is white. 

Additional Things I liked

  • Desiree and Early’s love story. They remained with each other all those decades without getting married and didn’t really have the need to justify it to anyone else.
  • Sexual & Gender Identity through Reese, Jude, and Barry. Reese is a transgender man who follows in love with Jude. Barry is a drag queen that befriends them both. I liked that Brit did not make a big deal out of it Jude and Reese’s relationship (cisgender woman and transgender man). She wrote it like it was any other relationship. Brit doesn’t browbeat the reader.
    • Which reminded me of Schitt’s Creek romance between David & Patrick. There wasn’t a big to do. It just was and there was no question.
  • The Vanishing Half having many different meanings depending on the character. It was literal and figurative. 
  • While reading this book it reminded me of a movie, Imitation of Life, from 1934 & 1959  that Turner Movie Classic played on Mother’s Day a few years ago. I always wondered why they played it because the woman passing for white rejected her Black mother. 

What I did not like

  • The constant flash-forwards and flashbacks throughout the book. Sometimes it was hard to remember timelines because you would stay in the past for a while and then abruptly go back to the present.
  • There are a lot of plot lines, subplots, and random tidbits about their life after the books end.
  • To me, it seems Desiree got the raw end of the deal for much of the book. But, exactly who and what was holding her back. 
  • I didn’t like the ending just because there is not a succinct resolution. However, it does allow for the story to continue
    • I just read HBO acquired the rights to make a limited series adaptation. Which does lend itself well to television.
      • While reading the book I was trying to cast who would play the actors. I may do a secondary post of who I would cast to play each character.

I absolutely enjoyed this book. In my previous blog post; I mentioned how I’m a mood reader; funny enough I was always in the mood for this book. I would definitely recommend this book for book club.

Let me know what you think. Have you read the book or put it on your To Be Read list?
Please comment and share.

Happy Reading!

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