The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

5 out of 5 stars

This literary fiction novel tells the story of Stella and Desiree Vignes, twins who grew up in Mallard, a small community in Louisiana. At 16, the twins run away to New Orleans together from home – a decision that ultimately leads them to live separate lives.

The Vanishing Half, a novel by Brit Bennett sitting on a marble table top.

Bennett captures small-town life in the late 60s very well. I could picture the people and places of Mallard. The rest of the locations were not described as vividly, though none were as significant to the story as the town, described as “more idea than place” where the lives of the Vignes sisters began.

Race and racism are prominent themes in the book, and there is triggering language and racial violence.

As much as racism is a theme, this is primarily a story about identity. The Vanishing Half explores what makes a person who they are, the circumstances and choices that shape them, and the big and small ways people both abandon and stay true to themselves. As Bennett so accurately captures, “Sometimes who you were came down to the small things.”

“The hardest part about becoming someone else was deciding to. The rest was only logistics.”

Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half

Well-written yet dense, I was simultaneously captivated by the unique storyline and frustrated that I couldn’t read as many pages as I normally can in one sitting. I was also a little thrown by the long chapters and the time jumps between sections. However, once I slowed down and let the story take me where Bennett wanted to go, this one became a much more interesting read.

One of the most unique aspects of this book was the way we learn about one of the main characters entirely through the eyes of others for almost two-thirds of the book. When we finally meet the character, the reader gets to sort through what we thought we knew and what actually is. I haven’t encountered a story told in this way before and it added interest and intrigue.

With its astute observations about human nature and reminders of the deep scars racism leaves, this multi-generational book makes a lasting impression. I believe it is a book that will stand the test of time and continue to acquire well-deserved accolades.

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