When I was a little girl I announced to my family that the best way to achieve racial harmony and to eliminate bigotry was to have all races intermarry so we would all end up the same color.
This did not go over well.
So decades later, when I started reading The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, I was astounded to read a story about a town of light-skinned black people who wanted to stay that way. Here was my childhood theory! Naturally, however, the reality turned out to be much more complicated.
The Vanishing Half focuses on a pair of twins, Desiree and Stella. Both witnessed the lynching death of their father (as his light skin did not create the protection hoped for), and this trauma naturally stays with them. They run away together, but Stella soon disappears from Desiree’s life. And Desiree, arguably the wilder one who was most determined to leave their small town of Mallard, Louisiana, returns with a daughter in tow…who happens to be a deep blue-black.
Little by little we see the lives of both sisters play out in ways that are sometimes surprising, even jarring. Stella passes as white and creates a life to escape her past. Desiree makes a live in Mallard. Both must live with the consequences of their choices, and the author handles their divergent paths with both honesty and compassion.
What does color mean? In The Vanishing Half, Desiree’s daughter Jude has to face bullying from black locals because she’s too dark. And let’s not forget that in the Deep South of that time period (the book starts in the 50s), it took very little black blood for someone, such as the twins’ father, to be lynched and murdered by white men.
There’s an LGBTQ element to this novel as well. Some reviewers have complained about this because it seemed like too much to tackle in one story. However, I think the story does a good job of intertwining the issues and struggles of gender and race.
My favorite character was Jude, Desiree’s daughter, who struggles in a community where she is bullied for her dark color but also develops a deep determination that she’ll need for the many challenges in her life. Her key role in the unfolding of this story is, in my opinion, what makes it great.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that The Vanishing Half is also about family, relationships, and how our pasts inform our future choices.
Beautifully written, The Vanishing Half is a must-read for anyone wishing to broaden their understanding of the impact of race and gender, and/or anyone who loves a good family drama
IN OTHER NEWS:
Starting in May (or thereabouts) I will be adding a second blog post per week that will be unrelated to book reviews. As always, I respectfully decline to review books as a favor to authors. I feel too much pressure to give a good review when one isn’t always warranted. Thanks for understanding.
If you enjoyed this content, please consider purchasing one of my books. Details can be found here. Thanks!