The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Vanishing Half is a literary masterpiece written by Brit Bennett that tells the story of twin sisters, Stella and Desiree Vignes, who grow up in a small, southern black community called Mallard. The novel is set in the 1950s and follows the sisters as they navigate their way through life, love, and the complexities of race in America.
Part One of the book introduces us to the Vignes sisters and their family. We learn about their childhood in Mallard, where light skin is prized above all else. The town was founded by their great-great-grandfather, who was a mixed-race man with a light complexion, who believed that creating a community of light-skinned people would lead to a better life. The sisters, however, have different perspectives on this. Desiree is proud of her black heritage and doesn't want to deny her roots, while Stella is ashamed of her blackness and wants to escape the limitations that come with it.
The sisters run away together to New Orleans, but soon their paths diverge. Stella, who can pass for white, abandons her sister and her black heritage to start a new life as a white woman. She gets a job at a department store and falls in love with a white man, who has no idea that she is really black. She keeps this a secret from him and from everyone else in her life, including her daughter Kennedy. Desiree, on the other hand, returns to Mallard and marries a dark-skinned man who abuses her. She eventually leaves him and moves to Washington D.C. with her daughter Jude.
Part Two of the book takes place years later and focuses on the lives of Stella and Desiree's daughters. Jude, Desiree's daughter, is dark-skinned and struggles to fit in with her peers. She faces discrimination at school and is bullied for her appearance. On the other hand, Kennedy, Stella's daughter, is white and privileged. She attends a prestigious school and is at the top of her class. The two girls meet by chance and form a close friendship that ultimately leads them to uncovering family secrets and the truth about their mothers.
Part Three of the book brings the story full circle and weaves together the lives of Stella, Desiree, and their daughters. We learn about the consequences of Stella's decision to pass as white, and the impact it has on her relationships and her sense of self. We also see how Desiree's decision to embrace her blackness and her history ultimately leads her to find love and happiness. The climax of the novel is when the two sisters reunite and confront the past, revealing long-held secrets that have been kept hidden for decades.
The Vanishing Half explores themes of identity, family, race, and the choices we make in life. It is a poignant and thought-provoking novel that offers a powerful commentary on the complexities of race and the enduring legacy of colorism in America. Brit Bennett's writing is exquisite, and her characters are deeply nuanced and complex. She expertly crafts a narrative that spans decades and generations, showing how the decisions we make can have ripple effects that last a lifetime. This is a book that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.