The Vanishing Half – Book Review [Yes, Spoilers]

First and foremost I need to mention that my comments are embedded in my experience as a white, educated, privileged, able-bodied, heterosexual, cis female. Truly, even though I found this book heartbreaking over and over, I didn’t want it to end. Brit Bennet is a wonderful story-teller. That alone made this a captivating read… but the depth of the characters and the diverse experience packed into one novel is amazing. There’s a lot to unpack. Maybe I’ll go through and note what struck me about certain characters.

Desiree: I relate to her on a lot of levels because I know what it likes to just feel like you’re waiting for someone to come back and you know that they won’t. I’m not quite sure how she was able to forgive her sister for leaving, for being ashamed of her roots…. she’s a better person than I am.

Early: He is an interesting character. Even though he technically leaves Desiree often, she seems to always just assume he will come back. And he does. He tried to find Stella for her, and treated Stella a lot nicer than I would have when she finally did surface.

Stella: Oh, how I raged at Stella. Could I blame her for wanting a better or different life for herself? No. But her choice to pretend to be someone else and essentially become someone else entirely was hard for me to decipher. The concept of “passing” as white is such an interesting one and really highlights how race is a social construct that isn’t just about skin color. Stella “acted white,” which may mean different things in different contexts. However, I found her calling Loretta’s daughter the “N” word after what happened to her own father just… appalling. I initially thought Stella withheld information from her own daughter and got off on being someone else… but really, it all comes down to fear. She was fearful of being “found out” and that the safety net that she tried to build would come crashing down. But, in reality, she never got the peace of mind she sought because she slept with a bat by her bed. Tragic.

Loretta: She represented to me the curious part of Stella who was sort of playing with fire. I think there may have been a part of Stella that wanted to be “found out” by associating with black folks, the very people whom she referred to as the N word. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Loretta also represents how even when wealthy, black people are still viewed as inferior by some. Even if they tried to “act white,” I still don’t think they would have been accepted.

Kennedy: Annoyed the hell out of me, but I guess she does a good job embodying what it’s like to grow up with privilege and be a snob who feels entitled to opportunities and attention.

Jude: It’s interesting that she grows up to be a doctor and they emphasize her work with cadavers… or, the dead. There are a lot of deaths in this book, like the death of the “original Stella,” but I guess you could say there are infinite deaths throughout life in the sense that a possibility for your life dies when you choose something else. Jude’s relationship with Reese I found beautiful and tragic. I don’t have any personal experience with what it’s like to be trans, and I’m not assuming it is this way for all trans folks, but I would imagine it would be hard if your partner wouldn’t like to be naked with you.

The twins’ mom: I thought it quite ironic that when Stella briefly returned, the mother had Alzheimer’s and just acted as if she never left. I expected rage. Wanted rage. Even wanted more rage from Stella… but I guess that’s not how life is for a lot of people.

Plot points-

I immensely enjoyed the dynamic and strange relationship between the two cousins. How Kennedy needed to know more about her mother and thus needed Jude; otherwise, I don’t think she would give Jude the time of day really. I did think it was a bit far fetched that Jude would see Stella at a party, but who knows. Serendipitous thing do happen I suppose.

I got a surreal feeling reading this book. Like you can know someone and not know them all at the same time. Maybe some connections don’t ever die and maybe there are some people in your life that you will always forgive. I don’t know. It left me with a strange feeling.

Lastly, I’m not quite sure how I felt about the ending. It left me a little unsatisfied, but maybe that was the point. Overall, it was entertaining to me, brings up so much about intersectionality, and I would recommend it for sure.

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