Synopsis: The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?
I have a bad habit when it comes to library books. Take, for example, The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett. I wait in line for the book for literally months (I think like around 4? I put in a hold at my library in the beginning of quarantine so it must’ve been around mid-April) and then, two weeks ago, I get my copy! And then, I just don’t read it until two days before it’s due, and then read it all in one day. I am so lucky that I was able to spend my Sunday reading and not doing actual stuff, because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to read what has become a contender for my book of the year. Let me tell you, The Vanishing Half is off the charts incredible, and surpassed my expectations in every way possible. SPOILERS AHEAD! Please be aware of this as I spoil some pretty big things.
The book, while in many ways sad, is also a beautiful exploration of the love between sisters, a mother and her daughter, for members of your family, and between partners. The romantic and platonic relationships in this book got to me in a way that I haven’t felt in years. Early and Desiree, for example, made my heart jump. Their re-introduction in chapter 2 and then their relationship throughout the rest of the book was so sweet. In all honesty, I probably could have read another whole book just about them. I also loved the exploration of the mother-daughter relationship between Desiree and Jude and Stella and Kennedy. Both have difficulties in their relationships, but you see both trying to make it better. Stella eventually comes around and supports Kennedy’s career, and Desiree does her best to raise Jude in Mallard as a single mother. In no way do these mothers have it easy (even Stella, who lives a privileged life but lives a lie). One of the most heart breaking lines in the book for me was when Desiree asks Jude why she doesn’t marry, and worries that because she was abused that Jude won’t marry at all. Just watching how the two women approach issues with their daughters was really interesting, and showed how they wanted what was best for their daughters, even though they didn’t always make the right choices.
Really though, the relationship that took the cake for me was between Jude and Reese. Oh my god, Jude and Reese. The beginning of chapter five I think I squealed. I did not expect a queer character to be in this book, and I did not expect it to be such a tender and beautiful depiction of queer love. This is one of the most open and insightful queer relationships I have seen in a while, and I didn’t even see it coming. Seeing how Jude and Reese fall in love, and then continue to love each other throughout their lives is so heart warming, and I found the end of the book to be so perfect. To show them off in the river, both of them happy and completely comfortable with each other was so worth the wait, and again, I could have read an entire book just about their relationship. I wanted more! I wanted to see them have a family, have Reese’s photography career take off, see them get married in the future! But what Bennett wrote was perfect too, and I’ll just have to content myself with re-reading their chapters.
There were so many things about this book that I loved that it’s hard to pinpoint just a few. But here are some of my absolute favourite things. I loved that Sam didn’t come back. Once Early pointed him in the other direction, he was gone from the story and we never had to worry about him hunting down Desiree and Jude. I was really anxious about that, but like I said, this book (while sad) isn’t a tragedy. It really is about Black love, and that’s what it focuses on. I loved that Reese gets his surgery. I’m so glad that it went okay, that he wasn’t scammed or hurt from it, and that he and Jude were able to get to a place where they were both completely comfortable with each other. I also loved that Kennedy and Jude become friends, but not super close friends. It’s such a weird revelation that I don’t think that would happen right away, but Bennett’s writing leaves room for it in the future which is nice.
And finally, Stella. I had such conflicting feelings about Stella, and I think shes’ an absolutely fascinating character study. First of all, she really shows how race is a social construct. People are Black because society says they are Black, or people are White because society thinks their White. By acting as if she was White, Stella was easily able to disprove that someone’s race is ‘detectable’ other than our judgement of someone’s skin colour. Like Stella says, “she had become white only because everyone thought she was”. I also think Stella shows a lot of guilt (I want to call it white guilt, but maybe in this case it’s white-passing guilt). She feels guilty about how everyone else treats the Walkers, so she befriends Loretta, but doesn’t stick up for her with her White friends. However this eats at her, and she cannot reconcile the fact that even though both women are Black, because she is lighter skinned, she can pass. She goes through a bit of a reckoning with her White friends, and eventually sides with them, running the Walkers out of their neighborhood. I think this demonstrates how racism comes in many forms, and it was so interesting to try to understand Stella as a character.
Finally, the relationship that this whole book revolves around – Desiree and Stella. The twins make me feel so many ways, and it’s hard to put a single label on it, or incriminate Stella for leaving. Their reunion is so moving, Stella begging forgiveness from Desiree who “had finally let her go”. And then the second disappearance, which hurt even more. You can’t blame Stella, because that’s her entire life and how would you even begin to unravel those lies. But it still hurts so much, and you finish the book without ever really getting a clear story on her and Desiree. Do they meet up later, after the book finishes? Or are they always separated? I understand why Bennett wrote it like this, but I hope for Desiree’s sake that they meet again in the future.
So basically, I loved this book with all my heart, and strongly suggest that you read it. If you do, let me know what you think, and if you love it as much as me!!
That’s all for now ducks, I’ll see you again soon!