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Summary and book reviews of The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half

A Novel

by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett X
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Jun 2020, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the New York Times-bestselling author of The Mothers, a stunning new novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white.

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.

One

The morning one of the lost twins returned to Mallard, Lou LeBon ran to the diner to break the news, and even now, many years later, everyone remembers the shock of sweaty Lou pushing through the glass doors, chest heaving, neckline darkened with his own effort. The barely awake customers clamored around him, ten or so, although more would lie and say that they'd been there too, if only to pretend that this once, they'd witnessed something truly exciting. In that little farm town, nothing surprising ever happened, not since the Vignes twins had disappeared. But that morning in April 1968, on his way to work, Lou spotted Desiree Vignes walking along Partridge Road, carrying a small leather suitcase. She looked exactly the same as when she'd left at sixteen-still light, her skin the color of sand barely wet. Her hipless body reminding him of a branch caught in a strong breeze. She was hurrying, her head bent, and-Lou paused here, a bit of a showman-she was holding the hand of a girl...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Stella and Desiree Vignes grow up identical and, as children, inseparable. Later, they are not only separated, but lost to each other, completely out of contact. What series of events and experiences leads to this division and why? Was it inevitable, after their growing up so indistinct from each other?
  2. When did you notice cracks between the twins begin to form? Do you understand why Stella made the choice she did? What did Stella have to give up, in order to live a different kind of life? Was it necessary to leave Desiree behind? Do you think Stella ultimately regrets her choices? What about Desiree?
  3. Consider the various forces that shape the twins into the people they become, and the forces that later shape their respective daughters....
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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...continued

Full Review Members Only (725 words).

(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

O, The Oprah Magazine
A page-turner about once-inseparable twin girls now living radically different lives.

Vogue
Here, in her sensitive, elegant prose, [Bennett] evokes both the strife of racism, and what it does to a person even if they can evade some of its elements.

New York Times
The novel fails to imagine meaningful story lines or compelling links between the young women and their mothers’ burdens. As a result, their sections struggle to find momentum and weight...Despite these shortcomings, The Vanishing Half is a brave foray into vast and difficult terrain. It is about racial identity, of course, and three generations of mother-daughter relationships. It is also about a particularly American existential conflict — the tension between personal freedom and responsibility to a community.

Harper's Bazaar
Not to be missed.

Elle
This is sure to be one of 2020's best and boldest…A tale of family, identity, race, history, and perception, Bennett's next masterpiece is a triumph of character-driven narrative.

Los Angeles Times
Bennett pours a small kitchen sink of contemporary issues: racial passing, colorism, domestic abuse, intersectional feminism, transsexuality, dementia, selling out, class politics and, sure, the plight of being a twin. It could be utterly disastrous in the wrong hands. But it isn’t. Instead, Bennett pulls it off brilliantly...Although Bennett’s essays and fiction undeniably have a social-justice agenda, she leaves any weighty parallels — between, for example, racial and gender determinism — to the reader. Her restraint is the novel’s great strength,

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Impressive …This prodigious follow-up surpasses Bennett's formidable debut.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Assured and magnetic...Kin '[find] each other's lives inscrutable' in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Booklist (starred review)
Reflecting and refracting her story via the four related women—sisters, cousins, mothers, daughters—at its heart, and with an irresistible narrative voice, Bennett writes an intergenerational epic of race and reinvention, love and inheritance, divisions made and crossed, binding trauma, and the ever-present past.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Twins

Side by side diagrams of identical and fraternal twins Brit Bennett's novel, The Vanishing Half, follows the lives of Stella and Desiree Vignes, identical twin girls born in Louisiana in 1938.

As you likely know, there are broadly two types of twins: fraternal and identical. Fraternal, or dizygotic, twins are formed when two separate eggs are fertilized by two separate spermatozoa, creating two distinct embryos with their own genetic profiles. They're basically just like any siblings, looking, sounding and acting differently from each other, and they can also be different genders; they just happen to have been conceived at the same time in the same uterus.

Identical twins, also known as monozygotic twins, occur when a single fertilized egg splits, forming two identical copies of itself....

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