The light-skinned Vignes sisters are identical twins that spent their childhood inseparable growing up in a small southern town. At the age of sixteen, they decide to run away, which shapes who they become as adults, including their racial identities.
Many years later, one sister returns to the small town with her black daughter. Across the country, the other secretly passes for white and her white husband knows nothing of her past.
Although they’re separated, their fates are intertwined despite their lies. Will it begin to unravel as their daughters start to put the pieces together?
Where do I begin? There’s so much to say that I don’t even think my review can do it justice.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett blew my mind. I LOVED this book.
So, the fact it’s going to be made into a television series makes me so happy. It’s so well written that this news is so well deserved.
Brit Bennett doesn’t hold back in how she discusses racial and gender identity. I was in complete awe. This was a book I didn’t even know I needed until I read it.
Bennett uses the theme of identity to discuss how different each person can be despite having the same childhood or external factors.
I think growing up with twin cousins made this easier to understand. They both had the same upbringing but they’re both very different. They believe that there’s a huge misconception with twins in that people think they will react the same way to things because they were raised in the same environment with the same values.
In all honesty, it’s not something I’ve ever thought about. However, when it came to writing this review, I realised just how strange it is to have this mind-set. You grow up with siblings but it’s never construed that you would share the same reaction to something because you’ve had the same upbringing. It’s very much understood that you and your sibling are very different.
So, then after discussing it with my twin cousins, they believe it’s the connotations surrounding the word ‘twin’. The minute you think of twin, you think of two people who do everything together. Work together. Play together. Have the same friendship groups. Same taste in music…in films…in books…
Which can be very true and for the Vignes twins, they did pretty much everything together.
However, when you look at them closely, the Vignes sisters are different in every sense. Desiree seems like the outspoken one, more headstrong and determined to follow her own path. Whilst Stella, seems more quiet and shy. I think that’s why her actions are more shocking.
“It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch.”
At first, I thought the twins going on to have separate lives was to show how they both have different identities. However, the more I read, the more I understood that even though they became very different people, their lives were so intertwined with each other. Being a twin added to their identity but it wasn’t the only thing that made up who they are.
Brit Bennett, also discussed gender identity through Jude’s relationship with Reese and it was so beautifully woven in.
Through Reese, we got to see just how fluid gender can be and how it can truly affect someone. It also made me realise just how much of a prominent role gender has in society. Gender stereotypes, especially, have too much of a hold in the world we live in today so I can’t imagine what it must have been like during the 1950s-1990s when this novel was set. So to see Reese struggling was hard but I was also completely awestruck in how strong he was in his newfound identity. It was a journey for him but I loved how Jude never left his side and loved him through it all.
Race identity was thoroughly discussed through the Vignes twins. However, it was strange to see it painted as fluid. Nevertheless, it was understood that this is something that those who are lighter in colour can understand. Colourism is tied in so closely with this novel because, through Stella Vignes, we can began to see just how it manifested from racism. For one twin, Desiree, the traumatic racist events from her childhood made her lean towards her blackness. She met a black man and went on to have a child with him. But, for the other, Stella, she saw it as a weakness and found that ‘passing’ as white was the only way to survive in such a cruel world.
It was even more amazing how their daughters were so completely different as a consequence. Jude is a dark-skinned Black girl. Her race is mentioned wherever she goes, especially as a child. Growing up in a small southern town where racism is strife, she faced prejudice and self-hate as a consequence. It was heart-breaking to read and I genuinely just wanted to hug her. However, whilst her identity is firmly within being Black, her cousin, Kennedy, Stella’s daughter, is White with blonde hair. Stella’s actions and the way she chose to bring her up her daughter, eradicated the Black identity she had the choice of having. What I liked was how Brit Bennett chose to then explore sexism through Kennedy’s acting career.
However, the difference between the two different identities explored in this novel is that whilst gender is broad and fluid, running from your racial identity isn’t an option. It will always come back to find you because it’s within you. Stella’s secret consumed her. She struggled and I felt bad for her in some way because it was clear that she hadn’t truly accepted herself. Stella is an amplification of the ‘tragic mulatto’ trope, which is a self-hating mixed-race person who is sad or even suicidal because they fail to fit both the ‘black’ world or the ‘white’ world.
To contrast gender and race, whilst using twins as the main characters, really emphasised the prominence of identity in society. It’s so cleverly thought out that I can only commend Brit Bennett because I wouldn’t even know where to start writing a novel like this.
You can’t run from your past but neither does it define you. Both Desiree and Stella had the same past but became very different people.
It’s a very interesting take on how your identity is a mixture of your values and environment but also, how the choices you make play a huge role in your future.
They will also trickle down into the lives of your descendants whether you realise it or not.