The Vanishing Half Review
As a book itself, I feel it missed the mark, it holds a lot of potential but overall I thought this fell flat. However, seeing this as a book club pick, I found this was a perfect book to read and spark a discussion.
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 passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters' storylines intersect?
Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person's decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.
I had been wanting to pick this one up for a while. This being my friends’ #OppositesAttractBookClub pick provided the perfect opportunity to finally read this. Which I think was better for me, I enjoyed being able to discuss this book with friends. I don’t think I would have ended up enjoying this as much otherwise. As a book itself, I feel it missed the mark, it holds a lot of potential but overall I thought this fell flat. However, seeing this as a book club pick, I found this was a perfect book to read and spark a discussion.
The Vanishing Half touches on so many important topics from racism to sexism to sexuality and basically everything in between. But with how many topics it touched on we rarely truly dived deep into any of them. We never followed through on these topics. It’s as if we saw the top of each of these icebergs but never went further below the surface.
Seeing this, was a bit of a disappointment for me. I would have liked to have seen a bit more. It’s almost as if the author was too focused on wanting to include so many topics instead of just one or two and diving deep into them.
It’s almost as if the author was too focused on wanting to include so many topics instead of just one or two and diving deep into them.
With all these topics we see, it in a way took away from the main storyline. This was another thing, there were so many characters, each with their own story to tell. I really liked this aspect but I felt the overall execution fell through. The main storyline that we follow is that twins, Desiree and Stella were born in a community of blacks who lived where lighter skin was preferred. And these twins run away at 16 having never been apart. Until one day, Stella disappears into a life where she pretends she’s white. Building herself a life where no one knows of her past, not even her husband. However, Desiree embraced her black heritage and has a daughter with darker skin than hers. But Desiree never stopped thinking of Stella. Then, over a complex timeline, their own daughters meet.
I felt the entire book was building up to the twins reuniting. However, when it finally happened, it missed the target. I expected a major argument or just more than what we got. Not a whole lot had truly happened. The whole scene was barely touched on and then the next thing we know we see Stella leave again. There was no confrontation, nothing. For me, I thought this should have been the climax of the book and it wasn’t at all. And I thought everything after was just going downhill. I found the ending was so flat.
I felt the entire book was building up to the twins reuniting. However, when it finally happened, it missed the target.
The way this story is set up. The premise instantly reminded me of Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner, two sisters who ended living very different lives and we get to learn their stories over the years. This similarity in storylines initially made me want to pick up The Vanishing Half, as I had really enjoyed Mrs. Everything. I will say this didn’t compare, I didn’t enjoy The Vanishing Half as much as Mrs. Everything.
However, I did enjoy the way this book is set up. As I mentioned, throughout the whole book we meet many characters and learn their stories. And all these stories to me came across as several short stories that were inter-connected. We saw everyone’s individual story and were able to see how it fit into the other stories. But as a whole, it was not a continuous story. And since it was not continuous, the flow wasn’t exactly smooth.
Throughout the whole book we meet many characters and learn their stories. And all these stories to me came across as several short stories that were inter-connected.
This setup vaguely reminded me of The Night Circus and how that particular book was written. However, I would not actually compare these two books against each other beyond the similarity of timelines. I was just simply reminded of the writing style of The Night Circus with how The Vanishing Half flowed. The writing style is a bit unorthodox.
Speaking of how The Vanishing Half is written, the complexity of the storyline, and how it flows, I don’t see this being a book for everyone. And honestly, if it weren’t for the book club I read this for, I don’t know if I would have finished it. I was toeing the line of DNF’ing this book about halfway through. But then I heard from a few others that things picked up (I didn’t think it did) and one of my friends told me they were curious about my thoughts of the ending. So this helped me push through to the end.
The complexity of the storyline, and how it flows, I don’t see this being a book for everyone.
Now I’m not saying “don’t pick this up unless it’s for a buddy read or book club.” But I would say if you’re wary of starting this by yourself, read it with a friend, group of friends, or a book club. I found this was a sincerely great book to spark a deep meaningful discussion.
Overall, this was a bit disappointing. It missed the mark for me. Maybe, I just had too high of expectations? Possibly. I just expected more. This held so much potential but I felt that it didn’t follow through. I do think this would be a great read for anyone interested in contemporary books that touch on serious topics such as racism and sexism. But as I mentioned, I don’t think this is a book for everyone.