Brit Bennett's most recent book, The Vanishing Half, is one that popped up on multiple recommendation lists throughout the year. Many of the sources I trust touted her second novel as a masterpiece. I added it to my reading list and ordered it on Cyber Monday from Books & Books, my favorite independent bookstore in Miami, FL.
This week, while on vacation, I was excited to finally start the book.
For those who are not familiar, the story centers around twin sisters, Desiree and Stella, who grew up in a tiny Southern town called Mallard (I could not stop thinking about Make Way for Ducklings every time the word was used). Though they are both Black, Stella is particularly light skinned. As a teenager, she breaks away from the family to start a new life, pretending to be white.
On page 187, Stella is remembering how she used to mentally transition from her home life to her work life, "At the same time, Desiree could never meet Miss Vignes. Stella could only be her when Desiree was not around. In the morning, during her ride to Maison Blanche, she closed her eyes and slowly became her. She imagined another life, another past. No footsteps thundering up the porch steps, no ruddy white man grabbing her father, no Mr. Dupont pressing against her in the pantry. No Mama, no Desiree. She let her mind go blank, her whole life vanishing, until she became new and clean as a baby."
Colorism is a major theme throughout the book, particularly in the sections dedicated to Desiree's daughter, Jude. Bennett writes, "They called her tar baby. Midnight. Darky. Mudpie. Said, Smile, we can't see you. Said, You so dark you blend into the chalkboard. Said, Bet you could show up naked to a funeral. Bet lighting bugs follow you in the daytime. Bet when you swim it look like oil. . . She was black. Blueblack. No, so black she looked purple. Black as coffee, asphalt, outer space, black at teh beginning and end of the world."
These polar opposite experiences, of whiteness and Blackness, come to a head when Jude meets Stella's daughter, Kennedy. Kennedy has spent her entire life believing her mother is white and knows nothing about her childhood in Mallard. Jude exposes truths that make Kennedy questions everything she's ever known about herself and her mother.
I don't want to say anything more about the plot, because if you plan to read it, I don't want to spoil the ending.
I will say, I found the first 200 pages of this book incredibly slow. I was worried it had been over-hyped and that I came in with inflated expectations.
Once Jude and Kennedy met, I found the story got a lot more interesting and I was genuinely invested in how their lives would change after these secrets were revealed.
If I could alter one thing about the book, it would be the way the story jumps around from person to person. Each section is focused on a different woman - Desiree, Stella, Jude or Kennedy. I wish those switches had been indicated by putting their names at the beginning of each of those sections, giving you a signal to shift your brain back to that particular person. Instead, the sections are marked with years, which doesn't mean too much if you can't keep the women straight.
I am so curious, did you read this book? What did you think? Sound off in the comments!
*Image courtesy of BuzzFeed News.