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If you haven’t yet heard of The Vanishing Half, get ready. The novel came out just in the beginning of June and has spent 6 weeks and counting on the New York Times best-seller list.On top of that it is already in talks with HBO to be turned into an upcoming limited series. It is the second novel by author Brit Bennet, a Stanford undergrad who earned her MFA at the University of Michigan. Her debut novel The Mother was also a best-seller, and after finishing The Vanishing Half I’m eager to read more of her future work. 

The book is divided into four parts, which suspend traditional chronological narratives as chapters range in which characters and what decade they focus on. It works well for this novel, creating a sense of fluidity between the characters of Stella and Desiree Vignes, twins from a small town in Louisiana, and their daughters. We meet Desiree first as she returns to her hometown, years after she convinced her twin to run away with her to the big city. When she returns, Desiree is joined by her young daughter Jude, whose “darkness” is the talk of the town on the first few pages, and we early on see some themes of the novel such as colorism, racism, and identity. The town Desiree and Stella were born into was founded by former slaves who valued lighter skin, and it became a cultural part of their town to praise those who were lighter.Desiree and Stella were both some of the fairest girls the town had seen. This, along with their founding family ancestry, often put them in the public eye (and mouth) even before their shocking disappearance in the late 50’s. After Desiree returns to the town and battles with her resolve to stay, the book flashes backward in time to the events that brought Desiree home, and sets up the estrangement between her and her twin that becomes the core of the story. In later parts we meet Stella and see her life after she was separated from Desiree, and why exactly she works so hard to keep her distance from her family. This becomes complicated as Jude leaves Lousianna to attend college, and ends up running into both Stella, and Stella’s daughter Kennedy, her secret cousin. The lives of all four women fall together and apart countless times throughout the decades, coming together often when they least expect it. The relationships between each mother and daughter are unique and we’re shown the degree to which children are affected by their parent’s choices, and how the twin’s divergent choices lead Kennedy and Jude on paths Stella and Desiree would never have been able to imagine for themselves. 

 

Without any exaggeration, I’m able to say that The Vanishing Half is the best book I have read this year. Sadly, I haven’t read many books this year, although I once used to have the YA section of my library memorized. I’ve been feeling the loss of reading in my life, and after I discussed this with a friend of mine she mentioned she had just started doing the Book of the Month club, and would be willing to lend me any of the books that I found interesting. Two weeks ago I was at her apartment when a rainbow colored book on her bookcase caught my eye. I pulled it from the shelf and she said “That’s the one I was telling you about! Borrow it.” I don’t need more persuasion than that, so I took it home and within the next 2 days poured over this book until I turned that last page, feeling contemplative and incomplete in the way only a great novel leaves you. Great novels are my favorite addiction, you obsess over them, re-read them even though they never change, and they leave you emotionally wrecked every single time. But I’ll never stop going back. The Vanishing Half wasn’t enough just to borrow, and I do intend to purchase it so I can have my own copy. If you have been looking for a new book to read, especially one that deals with racism in and around relationships as a theme, I highly recommend The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet. 

 

"What are you going to do with an Art History degree?" A great many things, just wait and see. 
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