By Brit Bennett
Recommend? yes! Buy or borrow? buy!
“You can escape a town, but you cannot escape blood. Somehow, the Vignes twins believed themselves capable of both.”Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half
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?
Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.
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So begins the story of the Vignes twins, and how they eventually part ways, living very different lives on different sides of a racial divide. I find the above quote to be one of the most important in the book (although there are SO MANY AMAZING ONES), because it encompasses the story so well.
Desiree and Stella leave their small town of Mallard, a town where the founder had a dream for each generation of Black families to be lighter than the one before them. They end up in New Orleans, where Stella eventually takes a job where she actively passes as White. She falls in love with a White man and doesn’t tell him where she’s from or anything about her background, moves away and doesn’t speak to her family. Living a life she’s dreamed of, where she is not discriminated against for the colour of her skin.
Desiree, unsure of where her sister has gone, moves on and marries a Black man, but eventually ends up back in Mallard with her daughter, living with her mother, as if she’d never left.
Both sisters “escape” Mallard, but ultimately they can’t escape blood with Desiree returning home and Stella battling her own thoughts. About how she thinks she should be treating Black people, how things might had been different had she not chosen this life, about leaving her sister.
A story spanning decades, about not only Desiree and Stella, but their children, Jude and Kennedy, and how their lives differ is beautiful. The relationship between Jude and Reese is beautiful, everything about this story is beautiful and thought-provoking.
This book deserves all the ⭐️ possible, I truly wish I could read it for the first time again. Please, please pick it up and give it a read! When you do, I’d love to hear your thoughts!