The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is a novel set in the eighties in a town called Mallard which no one outside of Louisiana has heard of. The town exists a way for the founder, a black man, to create children whiter than him. The novel focuses on a pair of twins, who leave Mallard for a time. Though, one of the twins, Desiree, comes back after some time with a daughter who is far darker than anyone else in town. The other twin, Stella, runs off with her boss and tries to distance herself from her black identity as she passes as white and marries a white man. Along the way, the two twins have daughters with vastly different upbringings, one in a predominately white neighborhood, and one in Mallard. They meet in Los Angeles where the daughters, Kennedy and Jude, eventually learn they’re cousins. Stella wants to keep the lie that she isn’t black while her daughter wants to know the secret. Along the way, Jude falls in love with Reese, a trans man, and Kennedy becomes a midlist celebrity starring in off-Broadway plays. Near the end, Stella learns Kennedy has found her out and confronts Desiree, asking her to keep Jude away from her family. The novel ends with the twin’s mother dead, and at the funeral the one person absent is Stella.
I loved how this novel interrogated identity and questioned our understanding of what makes a person. It was interesting to read about a town where, even if they appeared white, people distrusted and killed them. It took the “one drop rule” and applied it to social issues rather than governmental ones. This was also paralleled in how Reese was introduced to Jude, where both felt different from the people around them. It was nicely contrasted in how Jude’s identity was external with being darker skinned in a town of mostly white passing people, while Reese presented as a man whose identity was much more internal. I enjoyed the interactions between Reese and Jude the most because they recognized each other’s pain and through that had tenderness for each other. Overall, I thought the book’s emotions, relationships, struggles with identity, and family worked in a powerful and personal way.
Final Rating: 4.5/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.