After finishing Brit Bennet’s The Vanishing Half, I’m totally struck by how effortless this story felt. This novel follows several generations of a single family through many cities and across decades, as they grapple with secrets and struggles, and yet I was never once lost or bored. If that’s not good story-telling I don’t know what is. And what’s even more, Brit Bennet does something even more impressive: she laces this gripping narrative with truly profound messages and themes, in such a subtle way that they never beat the reader over the head, but leave us reflecting long after the last page.
The Vanishing Half centers around two twin sisters, Desiree and Stella, who unexpectedly part ways in their teen years. For years, the cause of that separation remains a mystery to everyone but Stella, until Desiree’s daughter (Jude) accidentally uncovers her secret. But at the same time, she complicates so many key themes of the book: the meaning of family, race in America, and the power of secrets (among others). Along the way, Bennet introduces a truly diverse cast of characters, each as convincing and relatable as the next, and most with their own difficult backstory and desires (e.g. a gentle, loyal bounty-hunter who falls for Desiree; a loving, transgender friend who becomes Jude’s boyfriend, etc.). One feels, while reading that no character is denied the humanity and space on the page that they deserve. And the speed to which we flip page after page attests to Bennet’s effortless writing.
If you’re just looking for a good read, this is it. But if you’re looking for a thought-provoking book that will inspire great reflection and conversation, this is also it. Brit Bennet has truly created an effortless, beautiful piece of art with this novel and, in my opinion, deserves all the praise and accolades going her way.
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