Monday, June 8, 2020

Book Review: "The Vanishing Half" by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett's second novel, is powerful and incredibly relevant given the moment our society is in right now.

“You can escape a town, but you cannot escape blood. Somehow, the Vignes twins believed themselves capable of both.”

Stella and Desiree Vignes grew up in Mallard, Louisiana, a town whose population is composed of immensely light-skinned African-American people. They're actually descendants of the founder, but their lives were traumatized by their witnessing a horrible event in their childhood. Both sisters wanted something more out of life than cleaning people’s houses—Stella dreamed of college and Desiree dreamed of excitement. The two fled to New Orleans one night to pursue a new life.

But years later, Desiree returns to Mallard with her daughter, Jude, in tow, while Stella has chosen to live a very different life, and a lie at that.

The book tells Desiree and Stella’s stories as well as the stories of their daughters, Jude and Kennedy. It’s a powerful meditation on how intertwined family remains even when apart, and how decisions can ripple through the generations. It's also a look at sexual identity, self-acceptance, and the way home can be both a comfort and a curse.

More than that, this is a book about race and the unconscious biases that exist among people in the same groups. It’s such a timely conversation but it’s never heavy-handed. Not all of the characters are likable, but they're all fascinating in their own way.

Brit Bennett once again proves, as she did with her debut novel The Mothers, that she is a born storyteller. This is a book that will be talked about for some time.

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