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All booksHistorical fictionThe Vanishing Half
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Historical fiction

The Vanishing Half

Book of the year
Each year thousands of members vote for our Book of the Year award—congrats to The Vanishing Half!
Repeat author
Brit Bennett is back at Book of the Month – other BOTMs include The Mothers.

by Brit Bennett

Quick take

Identical twins’ lives diverge in this reflection on family, Black identity, and how our past shapes our present.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Emotional

    Emotional

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_LGBTQ

    LGBTQ+ themes

  • Illustrated icon, Literary

    Literary

Why I love it

Taylor Crumpton
@taylorcrumpton

As a descendant of enslaved Black Americans, I am well aware of the ways that cultural trauma is passed from mothers to daughters over the years. Sometimes I ask myself the question, are there aspects of my ancestors’ experiences that I would remove for future generations, if I could? In her new book, The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett articulates this question through the lives of two light-skinned Black twins whose decisions around choosing to pass—or not—shape their lives, their daughters lives, and the lives of generations to come.

Desiree and Stella Vignes were once inseparable, fleeing their small southern town to build a life together in New Orleans. But when Stella makes the decision to pass as white—disappearing from her sister’s life in order to pursue the “American Dream” of whiteness—the twins’ paths diverge, determining not just their own futures, but the futures of their daughters and their relationship to Black womanhood. As the sisters mature into mothers and their daughters into adulthood, each woman must confront her own relationship to her past, to family duty, and to her own autonomy.

Bennett’s writing filled an existing void within me: for mothers and grandmothers to be granted the humanity they rightfully deserve, but were denied. The Vanishing Half is a refreshing contemporary adaptation of the American familial narrative, and it is a book I will cherish. To Brit Bennett, thank you for giving me a book that I can read to my daughter and granddaughter in the decades to come.

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Synopsis

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. Ten 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.

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Preview

Get an early look from the first pages of The Vanishing Half.

Member thoughts

All (43966)
All (43966)
Love (29181)
Like (13574)
Dislike (1211)
44264 ratings
  • 66% Love
  • 31% Like
  • 3% Dislike
  • Slingerlands, NY

    This was one of the most amazing books i have read in very long time. Hands down and everybody needs to read this book. Its amazing I love it ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

  • Peoria, AZ

    I can understand why this won book of the year. I thought the beginning was slow but once I got into it I couldn’t put it down. The characters were inspiring, story with so many layers, ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Saint Paul, MN

    Beautifully written. Thought-provoking with enthralling, three-dimensional characters. I didn’t find one POV or timeline more boring than another, it all flowed together so seamlessly. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Huntingburg, IN

    I loved reading the Vignes twins’ saga! There were so many twists and turns and the story was so informative on issues of racism and colorism. This one is a must read. BOTY potential! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Grand Prairie, TX

    After reading Brit Bennet’s debut novel “The Mothers”, I wasn’t sure if “The Vanishing Half” could top it. Now that I’ve read the latter, all I can say is writing grows better with age. Much love.

  • West Hollywood, CA

    I’m not swayed by hype, this book is better than the hype. I thought I knew what to expect and instead it’s an amazing story that’s suffused with spirit of Toni Morrison. I didn’t want it to end! ❤️

  • Chicago, IL

    The story was heartbreaking in so many ways; I’m a grandmother of twins and I couldn’t imagine them at their current age of 20 vanishing totally from each other’s world. I didn’t care for the ending.

  • Omaha, NE

    Best book of 2020 yet! I couldn’t put it down, guessed it would be picked up for screen adaptation! The sad part is, the idea of Mallard isn’t as far-fetched as we’d like to believe. Colorism is real.

  • King, NC

    Reminds me of Plum Bun, the first novel where I gained insight into the nuances of “darkness” and its impact on a person’s understanding of their place in society, along with “passing”. Powerful.

  • Inglewood, CA

    I’m in absolute awe! This could not have been a better book. I honestly never wanted it to end. I felt Desiree’s anguish throughout an entire 300+ page book. Bennett’s writing is just flawless.

  • Katy , TX

    A beautiful and delicate exploration of race and identity. Bennett’s prose was effortlessly poetic and each character perspective was interesting and valuable to the story. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Fairfield, CA

    This book took many unexpected turns, in the best ways. Beautifully written and heart-wrenchingly poignant, I was completely immersed in the Vignes’ sisters’ stories. Also relevant amid current issues

  • Astoria, NY

    Top two books I’ve read all year - I love the way the author interweaves multiple narrators and time jumps so skillfully. It made me feel transported to another time and place. I didn’t want it to end

  • Pleasanton, CA

    I’ve said it before, but I love books about sisters. Just because you’re family, doesnt mean your life will always be the same. This really dives in to the concept of who we are and who we want to be.

  • Chesapeake , VA

    Great story about a family that is both separate and together. Each chapter travels through time and helps you understand the decisions that were made in the past that created these women’s future

  • New Orleans, LA

    This took so many interesting turns i loved it. Would read 1 chapter before bed and promise myself i’d go to sleeo, then two sentences into the next chapter i’d be like wait , what? Ok, lets keep on.

  • North Providence, RI

    First and foremost, this is a beautiful piece of literature. Not only a thought provoking story, but 4 wonderful female characters. Both the Vignes sisters and their daughters. “The Mothers” is next!!

  • Knightdale, NC

    While I did not love the jumpiness of the plot. This book deserved “loved” status for the important issues it brought to light and the realness of the characters in respect to the historical context.

  • Miami , FL

    On the surface, it’s a simple story. But ‘passing’ rarely is. A multilayered story of three generations that was heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. Not an easy read, but a satisfying one.

  • Kenova, WV

    A very informative and loving novel on racism and finding your identity. Twins with the same upbringing but choosing opposite paths. Loved how Desiree and Stella’s daughter’s lives became entwined.

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