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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

Excellent choice

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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, Emotional

    Emotional

  • Illustrated icon, Family_Drama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, LGBTQ_themes

    LGBTQ+ themes

  • Illustrated icon, Literary

    Literary

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.

Free sample

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

The Vanishing Half

Part I: The Lost Twins (1968)

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, seven or eight, and black as tar.

“Blueblack,” he said. “Like she flown direct from Africa.”

Lou’s Egg House splintered into a dozen different conversations. The line cook wondered if it had been Desiree after all, since Lou was turning sixty in May and still too vain to wear his eyeglasses. The waitress said that it had to be—even a blind man could spot a Vignes girl and it certainly couldn’t have been that other one. The diners, abandoning grits and eggs on the counter, didn’t care about that Vignes foolishness—who on earth was the dark child? Could she possibly be Desiree’s?

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Why I love it

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.

Member ratings (57,864)

  • Sonya T.

    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 ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

  • Sarah C.

    Prosper , TX

    I love this book! Although I’m not a fan of stories that don’t have a “happy ending”, it is real and touching. It shows the reality of what “colored people” experienced and try to overcome. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Brenda J.

    Houston, TX

    The book was beautifully written. I couldn’t just read one or two chapters a night! It’s interesting how the twins, Desiree & Stella, lived very different lives for many years. I give it a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️!

  • Cassie G.

    Cumberland, RI

    A deeply moving historical fiction that explores themes of race, identity, and the profound impact that our decisions can have on life trajectory. Absolutely beautiful and a must read. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Meghan N.

    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, ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Historical fiction
View all
Lady Tan’s Circle of Women
The Women
The Lion Women of Tehran
Shelterwood
All We Were Promised
Spitting Gold
The Mayor of Maxwell Street
The Great Divide
The Storm We Made
The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard
Lessons in Chemistry
The Frozen River
What We Kept to Ourselves
The River We Remember
Take My Hand
The Last Russian Doll
The First Ladies
The House Is On Fire
River Sing Me Home
The People We Keep
The Attic Child
Malibu Rising
The Book of Longings
Hester
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
The Nightingale
Daisy Jones & The Six
The Lincoln Highway
The Secret Book of Flora Lea
Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?
The Circus Train
Peach Blossom Spring
Hang the Moon
Booth
The Good Left Undone
Sisters in Arms
The Perishing
The Postmistress of Paris
The Family
Things We Lost to the Water
The Spectacular
Still Life
Send for Me
The Magnolia Palace
The Bookbinder
China Room
This Tender Land
Atomic Love
All the Light We Cannot See
The Vanishing Half
Outlawed
The Four Winds
Independence
The Fountains of Silence
Libertie
Queen of Thieves
The Great Believers
The Clockmaker's Daughter
A Gentleman in Moscow
The Great Alone
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
The Paris Hours
The Heart's Invisible Furies
Rules of Civility
Circling the Sun
The Moor's Account
Jacqueline in Paris
Don't Cry for Me
The Christie Affair
Bloomsbury Girls
The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle
Bronze Drum