The Vanishing Half

Let’s just get this out there: I feel like I am completely inadequate to the task of talking about this book.

So why am I doing it? One: Because I need to get in the habit of talking about things I’ve read more regularly. Two: This book deserves attention.

The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett, is as fascinating as it is a gut punch. It highlighted ways that racism exists that aren’t as obvious as those of us who are privileged, and does so without taking away any of the complexity or sugar coating the issues.

I am a blonde haired, blue eyed white girl, born in the 80’s, and got to grow up in the cultural narrative of racism not really being a “thing” – something that was untrue then, but has become blatantly obvious over the last decade. Reading a story of twins whose heritage is Black, but can pass for white, was odd for me, because it’s something I’ve never had to consider. Watching the twins each grapple with their identity, and how they go on to fit into their families and cultures of choice was uncomfortable at times, but felt important.

I don’t want to give away too much of the book, because I really think it’s one that you should read. Ultimately, there are no easy answers for the characters, no saccharine-sweet tie up to leave the reader feeling like all this struggle was worth it. At best, you get a complicated reality with glimmers of hope, and while I usually shy away from such endings in fiction, anything else would have felt like a disservice to the novel. This book isn’t so much an escape as it is a heavy and necessary take on forms of racism I don’t think we see as much in media.

No matter what your color or experience, I think The Vanishing Half is a worthwhile read. While American Dirt generated a lot of controversy and therefore conversation, I think The Vanishing Half should be something far more widely read and talked about. It’s a shame that it happened to be released during this pandemic, when book clubs aren’t really meeting. I think there’s a lot to take away from this novel, and it’s one worth sharing.

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