Updated: Jan 5, 2021
Let’s talk about the Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett.
This is my first read by Brit Bennett. I was introduced to this book by Antonia (@blackgirlthatreads) who suggested pairing this book with the classic, Passing, by Nella Larsen.
Both books became July 2020 reading list selections for the Livre Café.
So let’s get into it.
First of all, if you haven’t read this book, I’m officially dubbing it a must read. This book is amazing. The story and the writing are equally outstanding. I can’t say enough about this book. Brit Bennett did an excellent job putting this story together.
This story follows twin sisters (Stella and Desire) who grow up in Black town in the 30s called Mallard where everyone is light skinned. The two sisters grow up privileged because of the family they come from, but poor because of the mother’s decision to marry a man below their class. The story follows the twin sisters who are both light enough to pass for white, but only one does. We get to read as we follow not only how their decisions affect them and their relationships with each other, but we are able to see how their decisions affect their offspring, and their relationships with the people around them.
There were so many themes packed into this book, but the ones that stood out to me the most were lies, love, family, and grief. The book also touched on so many topics, like trans topics, colorism, racism, classism, and abandonment.
Here come the spoilers:
When Stella and Desire decide to leave Mallard, and go to New Orleans to start a new life, everything is fine. We know Stella as the quiet, shy , logical, and insecure one. We know Desire as the more outgoing, outspoken, erratic, and confident one. Stella finds a secretary job at a marketing firm and Desire finds a job as a wash house. We know that Stella disappears and decides to marry her boss and take on an identity as a white woman without Desire knowing—completely deterring and leaving Desire without telling her anything-- for good. We know after Stella's disappearance, Desire finds a job in DC as a fingerprint reader and marries and has a child with an abusive dark skinned black man named Sam, with whom she had a child named Jude who was also described as having very dark skin. man.
The book opens wit Desire leaving this man and returning home to Mallard with her daughter, Jude after escaping her abusive marriage.
Desire's Search for Stability
Desire, moves home with the intention to get on her feet and leave again, but she ends up staying. It seemed as though Desire’s decision to stay was her need for some sort of stability which was previously provided by her sister Stella, but now that Stella is gone and there’s an unending question as to her disappearance, Stella grows to find comfort in her stability and routine at home. She even reunites with a man from her childhood, who is also darker than is acceptable in Mallard. The man finds Desire because her ex husband hired him as a bounty hunter to find her not knowing there is history in his relationship with her. While in Mallard, she and her boyfriend (who is never fully accepted by Desire's prejudiced mother) really stop looking for Stella. It’ a constant though until years later, they have to just accept that Stella doesn’t want to be found.
Jude's Need to Escape:
Jude, whose temperament is similar to Stella's, hates living in Mallard and misses her father and doesn't understand completely why she’s been subjected to live in a place where she feels like she sticks out like a sore thumb and is subject to constant bullying for having dark skin. As soon as she gets to leave Mallard when she graduates high school, she does, and she moves to California where she finds love in on her mission to become a doctor.
While in LA Jude finds a catering job where she runs into a now wealthy and white Stella and Stella’s spoiled rich white daughter Kennedy.
Stella's New Life:
We learn that Kennedy grew up in the epitome of a glass house built on lies… so much so, that she grows to recognize lies as a form of love and even becomes an actor, because lying is what she knows best. She’s been taught to lie since she was a child. I won’t go all the way into the background of how Kennedy grew up, but I will say that she grew up bearing the cross of her mother, not even realizing she was doing it. Stella’s whole existence was built on a lie that she was far too deep in to ever undo. Stella build a life with her old boss, who loved her as a housewife. This was a lonely life for her, especially because she lived her life close to no one always being afraid that she’d be found out.
One of the things I wan to point out is the contrast and the relationship of Jude and Kennedy. Jude grows up with a temperament more like Stella and Kennedy with a temperament more like Desire, but their upbringings make them vastly different from their aunts and each other.
Kennedy's Relationship with Relationships:
Kennedy, like I said was groomed to be an actor, her mother constantly made her lie for her and always lied to hide her own life… even when her daughter was told the truth by her cousin Jude. Unlike Desire and Jude, Kennedy viewed relationships as temporary and nonessential. She had known nothing of distant relatives and never had a close relationship with ether of her parents. Her mother Stella was always guarded and never shared information. Her mother barely felt like Kennedy was hers. She looked at Kennedy and never saw a piece of herself… only the fake life she built.
Jude's Relationship with Relationships:
Jude on the other hand became more accepting of people in search of the love of her father and the missing pieces in her life, like the constant reminder that Stella was missing. Although Jude traveled as a way to escape the old life she knew. Unlike Stella, she always kept in contact with people she loved. Jude constantly looked for love, and losing it was detrimental to her—her mother behaved the same way. She maintained a long relationship throughout the book with her significant other.
The way the lives of the 4 women interweave like a figure 8 is so amazing to me.
I found the theme of lying as a form of love in this book very interesting. The book also mentioned the Wizard of Oz in regards to Stella in more than one occasion, which really fascinated me. “There’s no place like home”.
So that’s it for this book. Tell me, Did you read this book with us? What were your thoughts? The people want to know. Until next time… indulge endlessly