ROPES Book Awards: Pippa's Pick
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet (2020)
Publisher: Riverhead Books
“You can escape a town, but you cannot escape blood. Somehow, the Vignes twins believed themselves capable of both.”
Brit Bennet’s second novel The Vanishing Half follows the lives of two estranged twins, Desiree and Stella. The twins grew up in a predominately black community in the small southern town, Mallard. After a turbulent childhood, the twins decide to run away together at the age of sixteen in search of a new future. Despite being identical twins, the two girls separate and lead completely disparate lives; one has a daughter and moves back to Mallard to care for her mother, the other runs away again, passing for white and hiding her identity from all those she meets, including her new family.
Bennet’s narrative skill is exemplary through the novel’s exploration of multiple generations and perspectives as she weaves together the story of the Vignes twins through their childhood and their life in California. Interestingly, this novel extends to include the narratives of the twins children, as we are shown the impact of their mother’s decisions on their daughters' lives and identities. Starting in the 1950’s, this novel follows the twins until the 1990’s, exploring their experience of identity, family, and race throughout the changing times in America. The perspective of the twin’s daughters heightens the development of this novel through the deeply disparate lives the cousins live, reflective of the effect of their mothers’ decisions and exploring the influence of family, class, and race. Bennet combines tragedy, romance, and humour amongst the complex issues of racial identity, ‘passing’, LGBT identity, and domestic violence.
This novel packs in a multitude of interesting characters and its constantly developing plot makes it the perfect page-turner for your summer reading list. HBO has purchased the rights to adapt Bennet’s The Vanishing Half into a limited series which will grace our screens in the near future so there is no better time than this summer to read this novel!