Trying my hand at this book review thing. Part because the way my mind works, writing is how I make sense of things. Part because one day I hope to add author to that list of outfit-like titles. And everyone knows the best writers are readers. So as I stretch my reading legs, what better way to hone my craft than writing about the things I’ve read. First up, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet.
The Vignes 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, including their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. Across the country, the other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, although separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain interwined. What will happen when their own daughters’ story lines intersect?
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Much more than I initially anticipated to be honest. The synopsis itself didn’t necessarily grab my attention, but seeing this colorful cover all over my favorite writers feeds, piqued my curiosity. At the very least, I was confident would be worth the read. I was right. Hooked within the first few pages.
What immediately struck me was the town where the story takes place. Mallard is so extra is almost fantastical. Like a place that could only exist inside a novel, but at the same time, it was acutely accurate. I found that juxtaposition, along with a few others, one of the strongest aspects of the book. This ability that Bennet had to weave the story between points that felt so ridiculous and unrealistic — while also being very much real, and I would even venture to say, understandable. Though, that’s not to be confused with excusable.
I also really enjoyed the character development throughout the book and felt myself awakening to some of my own judgements with each introduction. I would immediately form these opinions about the characters based on their choices or behavior, and as I would get to know them, my perspective would change. I thought that was interesting. How fast we can sometimes “figure out who someone is” without ever actually knowing them or their story. I experienced this with Desiree, Stella, Jude, Early, even Adele. Kennedy? I’ll be honest, Kennedy was my least favorite character. I didn’t like her in the beginning…or the end.
Remaining what you were or becoming something new, it was a choice, any way you looked at it. She had just made the rational decision.The Vanishing Half
This theme around choices and identity stuck out to me each time it was brought up. This idea about deciding who you are, living with those decisions, and making the choice to let those decisions define you, or not. Stella’s experience resonated with me the most which I found strange because I didn’t agree with her choices or her reasonings. But for some reason, I connected with her explanation and the conversations she imagined.
“You don’t have to explain anything to me,” she would say. “It’s your life.”
“But it’s not,” Stella would say. “None of it belongs to me.”
“Well, you chose it,” Loretta would tell her. “So that makes it yours.”The Vanishing Half
As someone who sometimes, okay, often struggles with some of my choices (and lack thereof), I found some sort of freedom within Stella’s thoughts. Even though I feel like I’m coming from a completely different space. Where Stella seemed to use her reasoning as a way to justify her actions, past and future, I found it to be more a way to take responsibility for my choices and also for how I manage from here on out. It is my responsibility and my life.
On an unrelated note, I feel like this might be weird to say, but as dark-skinned woman who grew up in a home that looked like a less fanatical version of Mallard myself, I appreciate that this story was written by a woman with a darker complexion. Without context, I’m sure that can read a little strange, but I was the dark child of a light mother. The dark sister of light sibling. The dark granddaughter of a bi-racial grandmother. I too, have blonde cousins, with blue eyes. From my personal experience, I feel like it may have across a bit gratuitous had the author looked like someone who lived in Mallard. But that’s just me.
All in all, it was great book. Not just about race. But about choices and what we do with them. About judgements and perception. I enjoyed it. Even the ending which I felt was right for the story.