The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

 As with her New York Times-bestselling debut The Mothers, Brit Bennett offers an engrossing page-turner about family and relationships that is immersive and provocative, compassionate and wise.

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. Many 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.

Review - 

I literally stumbled across this title without having heard anything about it and decided to take a chance. I am so glad I did. I will be picking up Bennett's other book - The Mothers - to read soon. I love exploring the work of diverse authors as it offers an opportunity to see the world through different lenses.

The Vanishing Half begins in the 1950's in a very small town in the south. The plot follows a pair of extremely light skinned African American twins girls who flee their hometown as teens, and eventually a daughter of one who is very dark skinned like her father. As the story moves forward through time, we spend some time with each of the three main women - Desiree who returned to the small town she was raised in, fleeing with her young daughter from a violent husband; Stella who escaped her poverty by passing as white to get a job, then marrying her white boss and living in a luxury community on the west coast, always afraid her secret will be revealed; and Jude, Desiree's daughter, as she moves from the small town where she was ostracized for her dark skin to larger cities to attend university and build a relationship with a transexual.

There are so many themes to follow - racism by whites, the discrimination by blacks against those with darker skin tones, the anguish of a transexual living at a time there was little support and almost no options, the cost of passing as white, family relationships and more. Sounds complicated? Yes. But the story flows smoothly and each theme is woven into the story beautifully.

Well done. A great read.

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Meet the Author -

Born and raised in Southern California, Brit Bennett graduated from Stanford University and later earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award in Graduate Short Fiction. In 2014, she received the Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. She is a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree, and her debut novel The Mothers was a New York Times bestseller. Her second novel The Vanishing Half was an instant #1 New York Times bestseller. Her essays have been featured in The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and Jezebel.

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