Review | The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half

by Brit Bennett

Literary Fiction, Historical

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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. Ten 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’ story lines 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.

After recently reading The Mothers by Brit Bennett and adoring it, I knew this was one I had to get my hands on—and fast.

The Vanishing Half is a stunning, unique story. Following the story of two twin sisters, who over time lose themselves to the paths of their own lives. Only one sister chooses to live as a white woman, and the other as a black woman. It’s only after so many years when both of their own daughters get in contact with each other that they are forced to confront both of their messy pasts and look at what it means to be sisters after everything they’ve been through.

This was a searing exploration of race and family in 20th century America. This started a bit slow, but once I got 50 or so pages in I was absolutely hooked, much like Bennett’s debut. She’s got this extraordinary storytelling technique and her prose is nothing like I’ve ever read before. She really hooks and sinks you into the story and her use of the English language is so incredibly poetic and powerful. I noticed too that in this book as well as her debut, Bennett seems to have this unique narration style to her stories that as you’re reading it, it almost feels as if you are telling the story to yourself. Maybe I’m mad, but I loved it. I thought it added such a strong atmosphere to the book and by the halfway point, I was racing through it as if it would disappear any moment.

Brit Bennett has definitely become an author I will follow for a long time and now I can’t wait to see what she reads next. I think I enjoyed The Mothers a tiny bit more, but that’s not to take away from just how exceptional this novel was and how strong her cast of characters were. I thoroughly recommend.

Review | The Mothers by Brit Bennett

the mothers

The Mothers

by Brit Bennett

Adult Fiction

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“All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we’d taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season.”

It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.

In entrancing, lyrical prose, The Mothers asks whether a “what if” can be more powerful than an experience itself. If, as time passes, we must always live in servitude to the decisions of our younger selves, to the communities that have parented us, and to the decisions we make that shape our lives forever.

I’ve heard so many good things about Brit Bennett’s latest novel, The Vanishing Half, for so long but when I saw this in my local Waterstones I decided to pick it up and read it before I got around to her newest, to see if I would be a fan of her writing or not. I was expecting this to be on a debut level – good, but definitely a lot of potential to be even better. But I was completely wrong. I can’t think of one single thing to change that would improve this book, because it is already so perfect.

The Mothers follows the story of Nadia Turner, as she leaves high school and becomes an adult woman, as she gets involved with the pastor’s son, and as she’s faced with tough decisions that will have a lasting impact on her wherever she goes.

Seriously. There’s not many ways I can about what happens in the book without spoiling, I think it’s a much better experience if you go into it not knowing much about it, but this was such an incredible book.

My favourite thing about this novel was the vague sort of narration that was able to jump from character to character, from year to year. It was narrated by a set of Nuns, hence “the Mothers” being the title, and they were like an all-seeing, omniscient narrator. It was a really interesting approach and certainly a risk, but it paid off so well. I loved the sort of detachment we got from each of the characters but the complete investment in their lives at the same time.

This was a really powerful read. The language and prose was so poetic and meaningful and just absolutely stunning. It was one of those books where you would read a line and you suddenly find yourself digesting it and taking it all in before you read any more. I had so much fun reading this book and I really didn’t want it to be over. Surely this will be one of my favourite reads of this year.

If The Vanishing Half is anywhere as good as The Mothers, then I am in for quite the treat.

5 star