Audiobook Review Blog Post Book Reviews

The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett – “In the dark, you could never be too black. In the dark, everyone was the same color.”

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. Many 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.

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Passing has become a term that many groups and sub-groups use to define the process of mixing with another group or by showing no traits that will out-cast them. For example, passing as a caucasian person, as a straight person, or as a person of the gender one identifies with. Passing plays an important role in the novel since it highlights the differences between the sisters and their racial paths. Desire embraces her blackness and even marries a black man, which leads her to a different path in life. She ends up coming back to her mother’s house and working all her life as a waitress; whereas Stella turns her back to her heritage and background embracing her passing as a white woman, which by default grants her certain privileges. She marries rich, lives in the suburbs, and forgets about struggles of hunger or rejection for being who she is, but at a high cost. Britt purposefully shows how the lives of almost the same woman can have so many different outcomes all based on passing and privilege.

Internal racism is another topic that drives actions in the novel. The internal racism and rejection come from early in their childhood and in town. Their family has a long line of light black women, which her mother Adele is proud of. Bing happy for being light, white, and not black might give Adele a sense of superiority, and the reader can see this when she tried to lighten Jude’s skin tone or even when Adele questions why Desire married a black man. However, these actions can be seen as Adele’s recognition that being dark and black will difficult their daughters’ and granddaughter’s lives. Regardless of the intention, this is part of Stella’s indoctrination or how she was raised leading her to reject her heritage and black family for fear of being stigmatized.

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Brit also dives into the waters of diversity in the novel, which can tide back to passing and internal racism. Jude’s relationship with Reese surpasses genre, sexuality, and self-definition restrictions. This part of the novel shows how passing is necessary for some diverse people (transgender people in this case), but how internal racism marks the interaction of some characters that question interpersonal relations based on color. Brit also shows how gay men and drag queens play an important role in the community for someone like Jude, who is alone in a city she does not know and finds solace and company in a group of people who identify with her in matters of sexuality and color.

Incredibly enough, Brit tells the story from the Vignes twins, but the story spins around the cousins who were raised differently but still found their way back to each other. How Jude, whose mother was always sure of who she was, become a welcoming diverse hardworking woman, always with her path in front of her; whereas Kennedy always struggled to bond and know her mother, while being lost for a lack of family heritage. With all her privilege, Kennedy wandered the world trying to define who she wanted to be and finally did so when embraced her hidden heritage.


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