BookBrowse Reviews The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Vanishing Half

A Novel

by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett X
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2020, 352 pages

    Feb 2022, 400 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
Buy This Book

About this Book



Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half explores issues of racism and identity in 20th-century America.

Brit Bennett's second novel, The Vanishing Half (after The Mothers, her 2016 bestselling debut), follows Desiree and Stella Vignes, identical twins born in 1938 in Mallard, Louisiana, a town so small it can't even be found on a map. Settled by the girls' ancestors, the town prides itself on its residents being primarily African Americans with very light skin tones (the lighter, the more prized). The girls run away to New Orleans when they turn 16. Desiree returns home 14 years later with her eight-year-old daughter, Jude, whose skin is so dark it's blue-black, touching off a firestorm of gossip and invective that impacts both mother and child. Stella, on the other hand, disappears without a trace, reinventing herself as a white woman with no family and no past. Marrying outside her race she gives birth to Kennedy, a blond, blue-eyed daughter. As Jude and Kennedy reach adulthood, each seeks to establish her place in the world and to uncover the secrets of her mother's past.

The narrative explores many important topics through the lives of these four women. Covering the time period from the World War II era through 1986, the author portrays the changing face of racism in the United States as exhibited not only by whites, but within Black communities as well, with light-skinned Blacks discriminating against those who are darker. Bennett also addresses the themes of family, identity and privilege, and illustrates the evolution of women's rights during this time period. That seems like a lot to tackle within one short novel, and in less-skilled hands the story might have become a slow plod, weighed down by its heavy themes. The author interweaves these subjects and others so skillfully, though, that the narrative soars, and it's only on reflection that one realizes its remarkable depth.

The Vanishing Half is captivating in large part because of the fully-realized characters Bennett has created. The women grow and change over the course of the story as they deal with loves and losses, joys and disappointments; they feel like real-life people we've met, and we grow to care deeply about them. Not only are the four central characters drawn with a fine pen, even minor characters are imbued with complexity, adding to the novel's richness.

The other highlight is the author's vivid writing style. While seldom using colloquialism in her text, she nevertheless captures the lyricism of Southern dialog throughout her prose:

[The residents of Mallard] weren't used to having a dark child amongst them and were surprised by how much it upset them. Each time that girl passed by, no hat or nothing, they were as galled as when Thomas Richard returned from the war, half a leg lighter, and walked around the town with one pant leg pinned back so that everyone could see his loss. If nothing could be done about ugliness, you ought to at least look like you were trying to hide it.

Truisms abound, adding further flavor to the narration; for example, Desiree despises the local boys because "nothing made a boy less exciting than the fact that you were supposed to like him," and "the Mallard boys seemed as familiar and safe as cousins." Later, she doesn't tell her mother about her marriage because, she thinks, "What was the point of sharing good news with someone who couldn't be happy for you?"

My only complaint is that I found the plot overly dependent on coincidence. One accidental meeting over the course of a novel, OK, perhaps; maybe even two such encounters would be acceptable. But there were at least four major turning points that relied on unlikely circumstances, which seemed a bit much. I did enjoy the direction the author took her story, but the repeated reliance on this plot device cast a shadow on an otherwise exceptional work.

Regardless, The Vanishing Half is one of my favorite novels of the year; it's entertaining, fast-moving, has great characters, and Bennett's writing style is absolutely stellar from start to finish. Fans of novels such as Alice Walker's The Color Purple, Kathryn Stockett's The Help, or The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd will almost certainly enjoy this one as well, as will those interested in reading about mother-daughter relationships. The book would also be an ideal choice for book groups.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in June 2020, and has been updated for the February 2022 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:


Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Vanishing Half, try these:

  • Moonrise Over New Jessup jacket

    Moonrise Over New Jessup

    by Jamila Minnicks

    Published 2023

    About this book

    Winner of the 2021 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, a thought-provoking and enchanting debut about a Black woman doing whatever it takes to protect all she loves at the beginning of the civil rights movement in Alabama.

  • Theatre Of Marvels jacket

    Theatre Of Marvels

    by Lianne Dillsworth

    Published 2023

    About this book

    Set amid the bustle of Victorian London, an irresistible story of an ambitious young Black actress, an orphan from the slums who has finally achieved a dubious stardom as "The Great Amazonia, a savage African queen" - but everything she has fought for depends on hiding the secret of her own identity.

We have 19 read-alikes for The Vanishing Half, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
More books by Brit Bennett
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Where Coyotes Howl
    Where Coyotes Howl
    by Sandra Dallas
    Where Coyotes Howl may appear to be a classically conventional historical novel — a wide-eyed ...
  • Book Jacket: After the Miracle
    After the Miracle
    by Max Wallace
    Many people have heard one particular story about Helen Keller—how the saintly teacher, Annie ...
  • Book Jacket: The Lost Wife
    The Lost Wife
    by Susanna Moore
    The Lost Wife is a hard-hitting novella based in part on a white settler named Sarah Wakefield's ...
  • Book Jacket
    Firekeeper's Daughter
    by Angeline Boulley
    Voted 2021 Best Young Adult Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Angeline Boulley's young adult ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The First Conspiracy
by Brad Meltzer & Josh Mensch
A remarkable and previously untold piece of American history—the secret plot to kill George Washington

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Pieces of Blue
    by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    A hilarious and heartfelt novel for fans of Maria Semple and Emma Straub.

Win This Book
Win Girlfriend on Mars

30 Copies to Give Away!

A funny and poignant debut novel that skewers billionaire-funded space travel in a love story of interplanetary proportions.



Solve this clue:

S I F A R Day

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.