The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

This book is in my top ten contenders for this year’s best novels.

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, souther 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.

Many 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.

As with her New York Times-bestselling debut The Mothers, Brit Bennett offers an engrossing page-turner about family and relationships that is immersive and provocative, compassionate and wise.

I consumed The Vanishing Half in three days – every page and turn in the story is purposeful and carries the kind of significance that makes reading fiction one of the most eye-opening things you can do.

Social issues regarding race are obviously at the center of the story but Bennett beautifully depicts the subtle way these issues, among others,* seep into our daily lives. How ignorance and hatred are thinly disguised and yet unaddressed every single day. For me, this book was like a match thrown on a dying fire, and for that reason, I have to thank Bennett for sharing her work with the world.

Bennett’s story is fast-paced and molasses-slow all at once – and it carries you from one age of America to another with ease. In crossing multiple generations, Bennett ultimately demonstrates that while a lot has changed over the years, so much has not.

There is beauty in this book for everyone – please read.

AND ALSO, get excited for the HBO limited series based on the novel – coming who knows when but definitely not soon enough.

* White privilege and gender identity were significant in The Vanishing Half as well but I struggle to write in depth about them without spoiling the book altogether.


Born and raised in Southern California, Brit Bennett graduated from Stanford University and later earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award in Graduate Short Fiction as well as the 2014 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. She is a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 awardee, and her debut novel The Mothers was a New York Times bestseller. Her second novel The Vanishing Half was an instant #1 New York Times bestseller. Her essays are featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and Jezebel.

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