The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The town Mallard was founded as a place for light-skinned Black people. Twins Desiree and Stella grow up there together, but when they decide to run away, their lives take very different paths, Desiree choosing to embrace her Blackness and Stella leaving her life behind to pass as white. The story is inter generational, following the lives of Stella and Desiree’s daughters as well.
Historical fiction, queer
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. 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.
This was an incredible read. It was Book of the Month’s Book of the Year, and definitely deserved it. The explorations of not only but racism but also colorism were deep and nuanced. I found Stella’s character particularly interesting, as she leaves Blackness behind and has so much internalized racism that she teaches her own child not to play with Black children. Her fear over being found out leads her motivations, and I loved the chapters on her, particularly when she befriends a Black woman, still disguised as white.
This book was heartbreaking but also had very sweet moments. There’s a wonderful romance between Desiree’s daughter Jude and a trans man named Reese. I wasn’t expecting trans representation, particularly in historical fiction, making this book even more delightful.
I loved this book and am very glad I read it. It is highly recommended.