On the Bookshelf...

The Vanishing Half

Brit Bennett

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 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.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett was the March read for the book group I'm a part of. Again, it isn't the usual kind of book I'd pick up and read voluntarily, yet the beauty of book groups is that you read out of your comfort zone at times. It's something I always used to tell children when I was a librarian, yet I rarely these days read books that I don't want to. Too many books, not enough time being my current excuse. Yet As with all the books I've read in the book group, I've really enjoyed the emotions and discussions that they elicit.

Set in America, Vanishing Half, is set through three time periods. It's essentially the story of two sisters, of dual race, who run away from a small town in the sixties. Whilst in New Orleans one of the sisters disappears one day and never comes back. The other sister returns to live in the town of her birth shortly after a failed marriage to a wife beater. The missing twin lives as a white woman and marries into a rich family. She is desperate to keep the secret that she isn't white. However, when both sisters' daughters meet whilst at university, life becomes a little more complicated.

There's a lot of themes running through the narrative. Racism, desertion, domestic violence, privilege and sexual orientation being just a few. The racism that existed and still does in the American south always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. How people can judge each other on colour alone makes me wonder about humanity. The themes of race are strong in this one. Brit Bennett has done a wonderful job of catching the moods and changing face of small-town America.

The characters in the book are well drawn. Yet I can't help thinking that none of them is particularly likeable. The 'white' sister is quite obnoxious at times, her daughter a spoilt girl who never really grows up. Yet it's the small characters that give this book gravitas. Reece, Judes boyfriend is one of the most interesting characters along with Adeles friend Early.

There's a lot going on in this book and it kept me turning pages well into the night. A solid four stars for this one.

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Review by
AJ Steel
May 5, 2023

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