The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern 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. Ten 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.
One of the things I enjoyed while listening to this book is the narrator. I loved her voice, her inflections, the way she did mama Vignes’ voice, and the emotions felt from her throughout. This is one of the greatest things about audiobooks. You can get into the world of the characters as if they are real. Love it!
It seems weird that I – someone who can not pass for white – found myself relating to Stella V more than her sister. Someone who started over, created new opportunities for herself, recreated who they knew themselves to be, dropped all of her family and moved on with her life (although, I held on to the last few toxic tethers for years before I finally knew what was good for me), and finally struggled with the guilt of it all. I felt that fear she had when she had been passing for white for so many years and the mere presence of a black couple (moving into her all-white community) threatened to reveal her secret. She’s just as strong a character as her twin who is dealing with an abusive partner and single mom life, and her mother whose husband was killed by a white man for no reason.
The Vanishing Half hits so many marks for me. So much so, you want to take a pen to it (or a handy notebook) and point out all the parts that you’ve been through, or know someone who’s been through, and write a long journal entry about how it’s affected your life. Oh, that was just me? Sorry.
I never understood true colorism until I was a teen. Before I had dealt with racism from other foster kids (white) and the white kids at the private school I went to but I didn’t realize it could come FOR me from my OWN people. The Vanishing Half dives deeply into the importance put on skin complexion – not just ‘color’ – in society and among family relations. There’s this part in the book when one sister returns home and everyone is wondering who that ‘dark’ girl is (her daughter) and it puts into perspective the ‘one drop’ rule. One drop of white – to black people – and you’re white. One drop of black – to white people – and you can’t EVER be white. Not even a little bit. You can’t put it on your bank documents, you can’t claim it at school, you can’t say you’re white to your white friends, and you can’t mark ‘White/Caucasian’ when getting a job.
Another interesting thing about the novel is the fact that it spans several generations. Often, I worry that there isn’t a chance to truly get to know our main characters if we make time jumps. Of course, there is no worry with Brit Bennett. The transition from one generation to the next is as smooth as butter. Not only do you see the issues of colorism from the white-passing Vignes twins but you also see it through the white daughter of one twin and the black (and dark-skinned) daughter of the other. You also get to see the world modernize, how things change in opinion about black people, and the job and educational opportunities afforded to them as time moved on.
I would definitely recommend this book, and not just to the black readers of the world. White people, and any POC, should glean the wealth of cultural knowledge between its pages. If I had to give this book a star rating I would give it 4.5 stars! If you’ve read this book please let me know in the comments! How did you feel about the points hit in this book? How do they relate to your own life?
P.S. If you have any books you’d love for me to read, please leave them in the comments!