“He was raised in the projects of Cleveland and he loved that city with the fierceness of someone who hadn’t been given much to love.” Well “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett certainly gave me something to love. The point-of-view-jumping novel about the ties of family, race, and what being true to one’s self means, is as beautifully written as it is captivating.
The novel narrates the life and legacy of Desiree and Stella Vignes, twin sisters of mixed heritage living in the deep south. Readers are taken on a journey from the twins’ childhood all the way up until each of their daughters’ maturity. The overarching plot and conflict of the storyline is Stella Vignes’s decision to pass as white for the majority of her life. As the twins age and grow, they remain leading separate lives on different sides of the country, until one day their daughters meet by chance.
This book is a beautifully written novel set across decades and generations, and not only is the prose profound with phrases like, “People thought that being one of a kind made you special. No, it just made you lonely. What was special was belonging with someone else,” Bennett also found a way of engrossing readers into the world she spun. The book questions what it means to “be yourself,” and Bennett poses questions such as: does the world and our family shape us, or do we shape ourselves? The novel forces readers to look, not only at the world around them, but also at themselves and, ultimately, who they want to be.
I love and have a deep respect for Bennett’s “The Vanishing Half” because it created an entertaining and realistic narrative that helps readers understand people and the choices they make. Every character is beautifully written and different, and from Stella Vignes’s decision to marry a white man and pass as white herself to Desiree’s daughter happening to meet Stella’s, every element of the book was dynamic and distinct. I found myself rooting for multiple characters, even when their desires contradicted. Bennett is a skilled author whose work forces readers to seriously think about their place in the world.
This novel reminded me of another book titled “Mrs. Everything” by Jennifer Weiner. The novel “Mrs. Everything” depicts two sisters like this one, and both storylines also progress through years as well as showing their children. And while “Mrs. Everything” and “The Vanishing Half” were fascinating reads, I prefer “The Vanishing Half” because it’s my personal belief that the imagery, prose, and overall writing style are just more pleasing, for both literature and aesthetics.
Also, the title itself is literary genius. “The Vanishing Half” is in reference to their mixed heritage and the fact that as they grow they lose one side of themselves. When the twins are children, they spend every moment together and they each complement the other’s personality – they are two halves of a whole. But as they separate and age, as they spend less time together and more time ignoring a part of themselves. They lose themselves both in the lack of their sister but also because they forgo a part of themselves. Stella ignores her family and the side of herself that is Black, conversely Desiree purposefully avoided anything white, including dating partners. They lose these parts of themselves, along with each other, and their other half vanishes.
People should read this book right now. Even if they don’t like reading very much or this type of book isn’t what they would typically read, Bennett is a wonderful author and this novel earned the acclaim. Bennett says, in one point in the book, “This big ol’ world and we only get to go through it once. The saddest thing there is, you ask me.” If we only get to go through this world once, people should read this book in their lifetime. It will be worth it.