The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is a family drama about race, focusing on the light and darkness of skin color. The book will really make you self reflect your own prejudice and bias based on skin color. Bennett doesn’t just analyze the white standard of skin bias but the black on as well. The book starts in the 1950’s and goes up to the early 1980’s. The story follows 3 generations of the Vinges family women. The story jumps in time a little a the beginning which took some getting used to but, I liked what it set up. The story was really good and really got into the psychology of its characters. The way the story was told reminded me of The Immoralists by Chloe Benjamin, and how the story jumps in time. The Vanishing Half is an important story that needed to me told. This book features an interesting portrait of a trans man transitioning, which was pretty bold. I do fear that the scene will turn off some readers, who came for a story about race, which would be unfortunate. The Vanishing Half won the Goodreads choice award for Historical fiction in 2020, I do feel this is a little bit of a stretch as history is an afterthought to the drama the only moments in history that are highlighted are Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. assignations and the Aids crisis that’s really all, there’s rarely a pop culture reference. The story is a fantastic general fiction that involves four decades. The Vanishing Half is being developed as a limited series at HBO and HBOmax.
The Plot Desiree and Stella Vinges are twin sisters in the small town of Mallard, Louisiana. A town so small it’s not even on the map. The Vinges are all very light skinned and so is every other colored person in the town, that’s the only way the white people can tolerate them. Stella and Desiree are so light they could almost pass for white. Stella has experimented with this and passed for a brief moment when a black man working security spotted her. The twins lost their father to a mob of angry white men, there mother did what she could but she couldn’t pay the bills, she made the girls drop out of school and work with her to pay the bills. The girls each dreamers, wanted more out of life and weren’t happy, they decide to run away. They stayed with each other for quite some time until Stella a perfected playing white and leaves her sister Desiree for a different life as a white woman. Desiree find love and marries a dark skinned man and has a dark skinned child in Jude. The husband beats her and she returns home with her child causing a stir because of her daughter’s skin color. Desiree meets Early and bounty hunter that she knew as children and hasn’t lost his crush, he covers for her to her husband and starts looking for Stella.
What I Liked: The story and the conversation around skin color is really fascinating. The relationship between Loretta and Stella was my favorite, someone she feared would reveal her secret would be the only friend she could talk to. The psychology of faking white and what it does to Stella towards her relationship towards black people. June was my favorite secondary character, I loved the psychology of her and secrets. I liked how the story made connections, it was real and messy not tied up in a bow. There’s to many good lines of dialogue here are my to favorite exchanges “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.” and “You did all this for a man?” “Not for him,” she said. “I just liked who I was with him.” “White.” “No,” Stella said. “Free.” Desiree laughed. “Same thing, baby.”
What I Disliked: Stella still hides her true self from one of the most important people in her life, I feel if she told them they would not have believed her anyway, but she would have got it off her chest. I do find it a little unbelievable that no one questioned Reece about being trans before he could start the hormones and have surgery.
Recommendations: The Vanishing Half is a heck of a read that will make you think after you read it. The Vanishing Half has a hard look about skin color backed up by a fantastic story. The story flows really well and was hard to stop at certain points. I rated The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett 5 out of 5 stars. I look forward to reading more from Brit Bennett in the future.