Vanishing Half Book Review
By Jessica Nguyen
Finishing The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett has introduced me to conversations about the ripple effect of racism in a family tree, analyzing one’s self-identity, and nature vs. nurture. I give this novel a rating of an 8/10.
This book dives into how two generations of the Vignes family have been affected by the inescapable prejudice surrounding black Americans.
Brit Bennett is an acclaimed fiction novelist coming from Stanford University who has now released her 2nd novel The Vanishing Half. The Vanishing Half has now become a 2020 New York Times Bestseller and has won the BOTY award. With how accomplished this book has become, it’s no wonder that book clubs are already putting it in their queue list and everyone with their mothers is adding this book onto their “Want to Read'' Goodreads bookshelf. Avid readers will certainly be hearing about this book again in the future, and they may as well do themselves a favor by picking up a copy now.
In The Vanishing Half, twins named Desiree and Stella run away from Mallard—their strange hometown built upon a foundation of racism, causing extreme discrimination towards the dark-skinned population—only for Desiree to return years later. Here is when she reveals the story of what happened after they ran away: Desiree challenged her town’s morals to have a family with the skin of “midnight” while Stella ran away from her. Later, the readers find out that Stella has run off to a city to secretly pass off as “white” amongst her new white family and community.
I believe that the murder of Stella and Desiree’s father by five white men is the biggest example of black double consciousness in the book. The twins take their father’s death as a turning point for their individual dramatic shifts in perspectives on how to cope with this loss.
Stella sees the murder as the message that no matter how light-skinned the town and community are, they will always be rendered as inferior because of their roots. There is an interesting analysis she makes when Loretta, a friendly neighbor, mentions she had to teach her daughter what assassination meant:
“Important men were given televised funerals, public days of mourning. Their deaths inspired the creation of art and the destruction of cities. But unimportant men were killed to make the point that they were unimportant-that they were not even men- and the world continued on.”
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD- REVIEW
Stella soon has a child named Kennedy who believes to be fully white. From depriving Kennedy of her true roots and history, she does not develop any integrity/tenacity which can be seen from her patterns of indecision and changing lifestyles.
I believe that Kennedy’s passion for acting comes from her unreliable parents: Stella and her husband are distant and choose to prioritize their interests before hers. Stella teaches Kennedy how societal distinctions between her and the black neighbor family should be learned before they catch up to her in a negative way. While Stella projects her internalized racism behind closed doors, she can’t help but be “frightened by her..daughter, who had revealed herself to be something so ugly” when Kennedy calls the black neighbor a slur.
For Desiree’s reaction to her father’s murder, she is filled with sorrow but strength as well: this ultimately drives her to prove herself as stronger than she once was when she returns. She now thrives as she operates the famous Lou’s in Mallard and raises a daughter that has overcome the black stereotypes so prevalent to Desiree when she was a teenager. Jude, Desiree’s daughter, is not immune to the prejudice the townspeople have of her, but this friction also propels Jude to excel in her crafts such as running and medicine.
In conclusion, I believe that the sisters handle their father’s death in extremely different ways: Stella chooses to hide that part of her racial identity to prevent anything similar to her father from happening to her while Desiree chooses to prevail through her town’s dangerous prejudices despite her father’s untimely death.
Outside of the novel, Brit Bennett has published thought-provoking articles that have also engulfed me in the different narratives of POC when coming to terms with their cultural identity.
After reading this book, I went over to Bennett’s Wikipedia page which mentioned a notable article that has given me a satisfying departure from this book. On Jezebel, Bennett wrote the article I Don’t Know What to Do With Good White People where she compares and contrasts the good people that happen to be white in her life to those that believe themselves to be “good white people.” The article contains anecdotes that Bennett has acquired as a black woman in America, discussions about performative activism, and a brief history on “good white people.” Another great resource to learning about how to be an active ally rather than a performative ally is How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi.
This book has made me excited for what will come next from Brit Bennett. I applaud her for her writing of these strong, personalized characters and hope to find her name again in my GoodReads recommendations.