BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett [in Booklist]

Brit Bennett was widely awarded for The Mothers (2016), and her highly-anticipated sophomore title – regardless of medium – won’t disappoint. With exacting nuance, narrator Shayna Small immediately distinguishes one Vignes twin sister from the other. Desiree, the “fidgety twin… always restless,” is seven minutes older than Stella, who is “so calm … whip smart.” At 16, the inseparable pair escape “that strange, separate town” of Mallard, Louisiana in 1954, landing in New Orleans.

Fourteen years later, Desiree returns, holding the hand of her 7-or-8-year-old “blueblack” daughter Jude, fleeing her abusive husband in Washington, DC. Stella, meanwhile, has been living as a privileged white woman in Los Angeles since marrying her employer and having a blond, violet-eyed daughter, Kennedy. Jude, now an undergraduate at UCLA, will be the one to recognize her mother’s vanished half. Kennedy and Jude will be the reluctant links to the Vignes reunions.

As the decades move forward, Bennett’s cast multiplies, with Small effortlessly adapting to the chimerical characters, as race, age, gender, and backgrounds continuously shift. Stella morphs from black to white, poor to old-money wealth. Jude grows from backwater pariah to big-city dreamer. Jude’s lover abandons the stifling, abusive south as Therese Anne Carter to claim his true self as Reese. Transformations abound, yet Small never falters, carrying the many generations toward revelation and reunion with resonance and depth.

Review: “Media,” Booklist, July 2020

Readers: Adult

Published: 2020


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