“Important men became martyrs, unimportant ones victims. The important men were given televised funerals, public days of mourning. Their deaths inspired the creation of art and the destruction of cities. But unimportant men were killed to make the point that they were unimportant — that they were not even men — and the world continued on.”The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett
In Summary of The Vanishing Half
Identical twin sisters, Desiree and Stella Vignes, run away from their small town of Mallard, Louisiana at age sixteen to explore life elsewhere. However, when the sisters split up from each other, their livelihoods reflect completely opposite experiences. Bennett’s novel covers their lives – together and separate – from the 1950s to 1990s, as they encounter their own paths that are influenced by decisions and dreams. The difference that primarily diversifies their experiences revolves around their ability to pass as white, as well the choice to embrace or reject bloodlines and the past. Additionally, the daughters of the twins find their lives intersecting in unlikely ways.
Warning: Domestic abuse/violence, racism, lynching, sexual assault, transphobia
|Diverse representations present (POC and transgender rep)||Too many perspectives beyond the twins’ perspectives|
|Vivid detail and character development||Slow development of plot|
|Doesn’t sugarcoat serious situations and topics; addresses what it means to “pass” as white||Left with loose ends|
“‘TV loves a black woman judge,’ Pam told her. ‘It’s funny — can you imagine what this world would look like if we decided what’s fair?‘”
Just as this novel is a slow-build, you have to let it marinate in your mind. Letting all of the complex themes and characters simmer will help you to taste the true impact of this book.
The Vanishing Half is a tough one to review, as it has been reviewed many times and received raving reviews. It has received praise from celebrities and others in the limelight, as well as received awards; it seems it has received an invisible stamp of prestigious literary merit.
I truly appreciate that The Vanishing Half introduces and addresses the complexities of race and prejudice; prior to reading it, I honestly didn’t know a thing about what it means to be “passing” in America. I genuinely learned something new, and I think that everyone should read this book even if simply for that reason.
I will admit, however, that the pacing was not always engaging; this was the case especially in the first half. Parts read like a fiction book assigned to high school students; incredibly important, yet perhaps repetitive and slow at times. Like many literary fiction novels, we are reading for the theme-building rather than action; I suppose this is an example of “slow and steady wins the race” in the reader’s world.
My main issue comes down to the variety of perspectives. I know, I know – you all are probably tired of me complaining about this in every review. I get it…
But hear me out. I have my reasons!
The Vanishing Half switches between each twin sister and each of their daughters. I understand that this was done to add layers to the impact of generational experience, but I wish the author had stuck with the perspectives of the twins. This would’ve allowed the author to explore the topic of “passing” as white more deeply than she was able to when juggling a handful of character perspectives.
Yes, I have my critiques; yes, I still enjoyed it; yes, you should read it. The themes alone make it worth your time to read, but you will most likely learn to love the characters and Bennett’s writing along the way.
The Vanishing Half Book Information
- Published: 2020
- ISBN: 978-0525536291
- Format: Hardback
- Length: 343 pages