It’s been a while since I wrote a straight forward book review and my latest Book Club read with “Are you Read-y for This” is definitely worthy of undivided attention.
“The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennet. So uncomfortable. So gripping. Sooooo gooood!
Brit Bennet is a fabulous American Black author. She is a prize winner, a bestseller and an acclaimed contributer to media channels such as The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine. Maybe I’ve been hiding under a rock, but I’d never heard of her before.
Thankfully, my friend recommended “The Vanishing Half” for a book club read, so Brit is now firmly planted on my bookshelf of consciousness. I have “The Mothers” lined up ready to go next.
So, to the book.
It spoke to me in a number of ways, not just because it’s a gripping mystery that keeps you turning the pages looking for answers. Its setting is intriguingly unique, and yet, cleverly, not far enough away from the reality of Black history that it doesn’t feel credible. The characters are so, so real. There are no clichés, no overly simplified lives, no judgements and no saccharine happy endings.
There is happiness, love, and positivity but all these things are anchored in the complexity of being human.
Relationships are not simple in life, and they’re not in “The Vanishing Half”. We get to know transgender couples, relationships kept in place through domestic abuse, touch love and broken hearts.
Just as in life, we face into the reality of prejudice, illness, the cruelty of old age and the individuality of circumstance. We see the pain experienced by both the under-represented and over-privileged, starkly different but side by side.
Each individual finds their own path and takes responsibility for their own happiness, security and comfort. And despite holding a mirror up to the challenges of life, Brit Bennet fills us with hope and contentment.
It’s a lovely read, warm and kind, as well as genuine.
The book is focused on the journey of twin sisters (I’m lucky enough to be a twin by the way). The sisters are Black, but we might call them “”hite passing” in appearance (as are some of my family members, including me, depending on which way the light is shining and your point of view).
Thankfully, that’s where the similarities end between my life and the Vignes sisters’.
The themes, however, are resonant to everything I’ve been reading and learning about recently, particularly the uneven playing field of society, determined by the colour of your skin. As I followed the sister’s journeys, I could hear the voices of the people who’ve shared their experiences with me. I could picture the stats we’ve all seen published about the pay gap between White people and their colleagues of colour. I could hear the protests of Historical, segregated America, and those of the Black Lives Matter organisation today.
I hate giving too much away, and promise to never share any spoilers, but in a quick, quick summary, the plot goes like this…..
Mallard, a strange little town that doesn’t exist on any maps.
Its residents are Black in ethnicity.
Their lived experiences are those of all Black Americans in the 1950s. They live in a segregated world. They’re banned from certain places such as shops and art galleries. Sections of the public buses are out of bounds. Ambitions and dreams are also out of bounds – change is not expected by the people of Mallard. Lynching is a reality, and this is the experience of our twin girls, the Vignes sisters, who witness the killing of their father in their home one life changing evening.
The residents of Mallard happen to have pale skin and light coloured hair that falls in gentle waves. They look White, and they’re very proud of it. They have a superior attitude to their dark skinned peers and have no desire to colour their population.
The Vignes sisters leave Mallard and head out to experience the world. They end up experiencing two very different worlds. In fact, one of them enters the White world, and lives as a White woman. This results in opening many doors, and simultaneously closing many others, including the one that leads back to her sister.
Later on, we also meet Jude, the beautifully dark skinned daughter of one of the twins. An inspirational young woman who lifts our hearts with her experiences, love and determination. Her life, as the next generation of the Vignes, is different again, because her skin tone is different. And that changes everything.
This book is filled to the brim.
We weave between the 1950s and 90s and between Mallard, New Orleans, New York and California. We sit in university libraries, backstage dressing rooms, small town diners and luxurious family pools.
We meet characters of different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexualities, gender identities, ages and professions and I loved them all.
I say a big thank you to my friend for recommending this to me. It was one of these books you finish and then find yourself thinking about afterwards….I wonder what Jude’s up to? I wonder if Early’s ok? I wonder which city will welcome Rees and Jude in the end?
I’d love to hear more recommendations from you all. I definitely recommend this one, and give it five stars.
“The Vanishing Half” is in fact one of the fullest books I’ve ever read.