Skip to main content

Book 17 of 52: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is one of those books I knew about, but hadn't gotten around to reading yet. It received so much coverage (well deserved!) and won so many awards (also deserved!) and figured I'd get around to it eventually, which I did when I recently found a copy in a Little Free Library near my house.

Of course, it's as good as everyone said, the story of Desiree and Stella Vignes, identical twin sisters growing up in Mallard, Louisiana, a community where light skin is valued, in the 1950s and 1960s. When they're sixteen and their mother pulls them out of school to work, they run away to New Orleans instead. Their stories split when they do, because Stella leaves to start a new life passing as a while woman. 

I'm obviously not qualified to write about the racial issues of the book (and I know "issues" itself is not a strong enough word). Instead, I'll point you to this Vox Q&A with Alisha Gaines, author of Black for a Day: White Fantasies of Race and Ethnicity. Also, I appreciated an interview Bennett did with The Los Angeles Times about where the idea for the book, and the town of Mallard itself, came from (it's fictional but based on real places).

I can say that it's remarkably written novel about how one small lie (Stella passes as white to get a better paying job) turns into a secret that metastasizes through Stella of course, but also lives of the Black family she left behind, and the "white" one she builds.

If this is something that interests you, of course read The Vanishing Half. But I also highly recommend the Family Secrets podcast, hosted by Dani Shapiro, who also examined one secret in her own life (that her father was not her father) in her memoir Inheritance. The book but especially the podcast explore what keeping secrets does to the holder of the secret and who is affected by the hiding, and how most people either already really know about the secret or at least that something isn't quite right. Hayley Mills also writes about this in her memoir, Forever Young, and how the secret of her mother's alcoholism affected her whole family (I listened to Inheritance and Forever Young as audiobooks - I recommend them both).

As usual, I got off the topic (a review of the book) and into something else (family secrets). I almost went into a tangent about how I usually find the "hit book of a year" a few years later at library book sales, and what happened to those during Pandemic Year 1? But I restrained myself. Maybe I go down that path when I have to do a post about a book I didn't like and want to write about something else. But I find it all so fascinating! Which is probably why I wandered this way. I hope you enjoyed wandering with me too.

Like this post? Buy Jen a cup of coffee.

Disclosure: links are affiliate links.


Popular posts from this blog

Book 23 of 52: Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

More romance? Of course! The world is on fire, and I can't ingest all the fires all the time. Sometimes I want to turn to genre fiction as an escape, even if an escape is into a patriarchal society where it's SCANDAL that a woman sometimes, when riding a horse, wears pants. Because of Miss Bridgerton is the first book in Julia Quinn's Rokesbys Series , which are prequels to her enormously popular  Bridgerton Series  (and now a  Netflix show ). These books are similar, of course, but instead being set in the Recency era of the 1810s, these books take place at the same time as the American Revolution (though still in England).  Here we meet Sybilla "Bille" Bridergton, who is stuck on the roof of a building because she chased a cat up there. She climbed up herself (scandalous woman!) but also twisted her ankle in the process, which is why she needs help to get down.  That help comes from George Rokesby. Their families are neighbors, and they've known each other

Book 26 of 52: The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil by Tina Brown

I'm not going to write a long review of Tina Brown's The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil  for two reasons. First, it's been hashed to death already, as anything about the royals is, by people who are far more invested in this whole thing than I am. And second, I'm in the frantic "do I really need a jean jacket AND a windbreaker" level of packing before a long trip. I can say that I didn't mind listening to this nearly 18 hour audiobook while the rest of the world is on fire, although of course they are not insulated. We can pretend that the Royal Family lives in a bubble, but they are enormously influential; touched by the same issues of race, class and gender; and Queen Elizabeth II is one of most influential politicians of modern times — and she is a politician, no matter what anyone says. Her death will be a global, cultural moment. Same thing with the Pope, on both fronts. I listened to Brown's  The Diana Chro

Book 12 of 52: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi is an author and graphic novelist who grew up in Iran and, as a tween and teen, lived in the country through  the Iranian Revolution before her parents sent her to Europe for school, and for her safety.  As an adult, she wrote Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood ,  a nonfiction graphic novel, originally in French. I read the English translation, which was published in 2003, three years after the original. It was a critical success, won a slew of awards, and became a movie . I haven't read the sequel, Persepolis 2 , but I hope to (you can also  buy them in a set . I found Persepolis  in a Little Free Library, or I'd have bought them combined).  In the tradition of Art Spiegelman's  Maus , which is about the author's father talking to him about the Holocaust,  Persepolis  is a memoir of trauma told through a mix of images and words that when combined, combust into powerful, beautiful and soul cracking art.  For example, Satrapi portrays the 1978 Cinema R