This morning on NPR, Heller McCaplin gave a glowing review of Brit Bennett's second novel, The Vanishing Half. McCaplin calls The Vanishing Half an "even better book [than her first novel, The Mothers], more expansive yet also deeper, a multi-generational family saga that tackles prickly issues of racial identity and bigotry and conveys the corrosive effects of secrets and dissembling." McCaplin isn't the only one who agrees that The Vanishing Half is a worthy read right now: it was also chosen as the Good Morning America Book Club Pick this month! The Vanishing Half tells the tale of twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white. 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.
As McCaplin points out, many novels have been written about race, but most of them involve retribution for unforgivable acts. Bennett's story distinguishes itself by utilizing the device of twins to explore concepts of nature versus nurture, duality, and emotional repercussions of abandonment by someone who is, quite literally, their other half. One sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly pass for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past.
The Vanishing Half is filled with complex characters, but the biggest gift is the allowance of the reader "to view flawed characters with understanding rather than judgment or condemnation."Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces an 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.
As with her New York Times-bestselling debut The Mothers, Brit Bennett offers an engrossing page-turner about family and relationships that is immersive and provocative, compassionate, and wise.