Title: The Vanishing Half
Authors: Brit Bennett
Genre: Fiction / Literary Fiction
Series info: Standalone
This book has been read by many people whom I follow and has been praised a ton. It was in my TBR for over a month before I finally picked it up. I was in the mood for some general fiction and it was the perfect time for this book.
The story is about a set of coloured twins who are light-skinned enough to pass as White. The Vignes sisters simply ran away from their small stifling town one day, believing there’s more out there. They were there one day, gone the next.
Just as mysteriously, one of the sisters comes back to town ten years later with a dark-skinned daughter in tow. This causes a ruckus in the town where fair skin is preferred. Another mystery is that the twins have been separated for almost a decade, and they haven’t been in contact.
The book takes us through the lives of the Vignes sisters through decades. One twin lives as herself and marries a Black man, giving birth to a daughter who is very dark-skinned. The other passes over as White and ditches her true identity. The contrast of their lives, the motivation, and the results of these choices is explored in the book.
She felt queasy at how simple it was. All there was to being white was acting like you were.
I finished the book over a weekend because it was very intriguing. Every time I paused reading, I thought about it until I picked up the book again.
- The writing style was SO GOOD.
It drew me in right from the start. It’s a whole vibe on its own. I don’t know how to say more but it was good!!!
- The parallel story through twins.
The whole concept of the book is to show how your life can turn out so different even if you come from the same background. When the twins separate, their lives go in completely different directions. After a while, there is nothing similar between their lives.
I generally have a fascination for stories with twins. Don’t ask me why, but I do. This one took it up a notch by showing how twins who were inseparable can go decades without talking to each other. How they can turn out so different from each other. Their bond with each other, in this case, is not enough to hold them together.
But maybe in those seven minutes they’d first been apart, they’d each lived a lifetime, setting out their separate paths. Each discovering who she might be.
- Multiple depictions of racism.
The book artfully shows multiple types of racism through the twins and other characters. There is violent racism against the coloureds (even if they are light-skinned), verbal racism (through remarks and slurs), non-verbal racism (through actions and favouritism towards the Whites), and even internalised racism (shown through one of the twins).
And these are just the main categories that I can recognize. There were many subtler forms throughout the book. The author has written it all skillfully.
One instance which I found intriguing was through the twins’ hometown. The residents of their town are very light-skinned, because of generations of people trying to whitewash themselves. They know that they are not completely White, though. They are blatantly racist towards dark-skinned people but also turn their noses up when they hear of someone passing over as White. It was interesting to see both of those ideals co-existing.
White folks kill you if you want too much, kill you if you want too little.” Willie Lee shook his head, packing tobacco into his pipe. “You gotta follow they rules but they change ’em when they feel. Devilish, you ask me.
- Brings up many points to ponder over.
This book is perfect as a book club read or for general discussions. While reading it, I really wished that I was buddy reading it with someone(s) because I had thoughts to share and questions to raise. Since I didn’t have a buddy reader, I simply took up the thoughts myself and pondered over them.
It’s been a while since a fiction book caused me to think so much. This was a welcome change.
That was the thrill of youth, the idea that you could be anyone. That was what had captured her in the charm shop, all those years ago. Then adulthood came, your choices solidifying, and you realize that everything you are had been set in motion years before. The rest was aftermath.
- The characters were written incredibly well.
The author takes us through decades with these characters. And I really did feel like that because through every scene, I learnt more about the characters. They were well-rounded and had layers of depth.
Even though there were only a few main characters, from who’s point of view we read, I did not feel like other characters were lacking. The characters that had something to show were paid attention to. I especially liked how it was not just racism that was explored, but also other topics such as parent-child relationships, friendships, and different kinds of romantic relationships.
- Individual journeys of characters had focus.
There were many characters whom we see through decades, and we see them all struggle and grow.
This book has several main characters and each plays an important role to the overall story. I loved that we get to really go into every character’s past and into their emotions. It allowed me to connect with the characters more.
- I loved all the relationships highlighted.
As I mentioned, there were several kinds. I won’t go in depth because they might be spoilers. But I’ll just say that if you’re someone who considers good relationship depiction in a book, you will not be disappointed.
My favourites were definitely the familial relationships and romantic relationships. Each bond that was shown had depth and complexity. The author was not shy with exploring every single relationship on page. These ties between the characters bring together the entire book so well.
The Vanishing Half is a brilliant book and I highly recommend it!
The only reason I’m not rating it 5 stars is because I reserve that rating for books that make me feel a lot. Otherwise, this would definitely be a 5 star.