Brit Bennett's stunning second novel, The Vanishing Half, spans multiple decades, cities and lives. It follows twins Desiree and Stella Vignes, born in the fictional town of Mallard, Louisiana in the 1940s, a place filled exclusively with light-skinned Black people. The founder of Mallard, the Vignes sisters' great-great-great-grandfather, passed down his light skin to Desiree and Stella, who, with their creamy complexions and natural beauty, were referred to only as "the twins" by the townspeople.
After witnessing the lynching of their father by a group of enraged white men, and being forced to quit school to clean houses for white families in a neighboring town at the age of 16, the girls decided to run away to New Orleans to start over. A year later, the twins separated for good, their life as a twosome neatly split into two very separate halves. Stella moved away without a word to her sister to pass as a white woman with a white husband and a blond, blue-eyed daughter, and Desiree married the darkest Black man she could find, giving birth to an equally dark-skinned daughter.
The novel shifts in time from the 1940s through the 1980s, from Louisiana to Boston to Los Angeles and back again, and between narrators - from Stella and Desiree to Desiree's daughter, Jude. The complicated backgrounds and inner conflicts of each character are explored in depth, adding an extra layer of richness to the book. Bennett explores themes of duality, how two halves make a whole, of racial identity, of secrets and lies. It's expansive in its scope of time, place and character development, and the powers of coincidence and belonging ring heavy across the book's pages.
TBH I don't want to give away any more of the plot, because The Vanishing Half is so worth reading, and because anything more from my perspective will spoil a mountain of twists and turns. The Vanishing Half is one of the most well-written and sweeping books I have ever read. It's received wild praise from just about every reviewer, was an instant best-seller, and is going to be adapted for a miniseries by HBO (I cannot WAIT to see who they've got in mind for the cast!).
I would love to know your thoughts on this fantastic book! There are so many overlapping themes, so many layers to peel back and a ton of symbolism to explore.
*Cover image from Oprah