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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, Icon_Emotional

    Emotional

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_LGBTQ

    LGBTQ+ themes

  • Illustrated icon, 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.

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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.

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Member ratings (57,395)

  • 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 ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

  • 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, ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Annie S.

    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. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Shanna T.

    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! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Isaac W.

    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! ❤️

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