THE PLOT: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is about twins, Desiree and Stella Vignes. They grow up in a small town in 60’s Louisiana but dream of escape. After running away to New Orleans at sixteen years old, the twins are desperate for money so Stella pretends to be white to get a secretarial job. But, passing for white opens new doors for Stella and she falls in love with her boss, leaving her twin behind to construct a new, white life in Los Angeles. That is, until many years later when Desiree’s dark-skinned daughter, Jude, and Stella’s blonde, blue-eyed daughter, Kennedy, find each other.
RATING: Five stars. FIVE STARS. Count ‘em, because each one is so well deserved. This book tackles many issues, yet has such a strong plot that keeps you guessing what’s going to happen next (although, as with all great novels, you inherently know it’s going to be about finding and exposing Stella). From colourism to racism to transgender issues to same sex marriage to domestic abuse, this novel is packed full of thoughtful, complex characters and situations yet it’s done so smoothly it takes you along on a journey without feeling contrived. Just read it and then applaud Brit Bennett for being a master.
GOOD BITS: The central theme of this book is ‘passing’, and it’s explored in so many ways. Passing for white, passing for a different gender, passing for straight. From the drag queens in LA, to the recurrent motif of acting and playing a part, it felt like Brit Bennet was able to handle so many elements by always coming back to this core idea of people not being who they appear. This works so well as the central characters are identical twins who can pass for each other, looking similar on the surface while there’s so much beneath.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: There aren’t any! I’m going to look up some less glowing reviews of this book to see if I agree/can find some criticism to debate in my head. If I dig deep, I guess I wanted some resolution between Jude’s boyfriend Reese and his family. I loved both Jude (a blue-black girl who grows up surrounded by light-skinned people) and Reese, so I would’ve liked him to have more of his own storyline (independent of their relationship). However, if I was an editor I probably would’ve suggested to remove this content (no matter how beautiful or interesting) because it doesn’t serve the plot. Perhaps this happened IRL and the seeds of a sequel about Reese and Barry is sitting on Brit Bennett’s laptop…
OVERALL: READ THIS BOOK. It’s firmly in one of my top books of the year. The use of language was so good, I wanted to underline and study so many quotes to help me improve my own writing techniques. Each character was so well fleshed out, I loved how each twin’s characteristics were cemented by each of the little actions in their lives (from the way they stood as children, to fishing with their father, to their ultimate life choices). I don’t want to give away any spoilers so all and sundry should simply order a copy… (yes, do it now!).