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The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett - Review

Friday, October 29, 2021

This is a brilliant book and I'd like you all to go and read it immediately! I first heard of it ages ago and bought it when it was cheap on Kindle, but hadn't got around to reading it. Then my friend Ingrid said they were going to have it for their next book club meeting, so I knew I needed to get around to reading it! I started it just before we went on holiday at the beginning of October and finished it there. I loved the book, it's quite complex but still easy to read.

At the beginning of the book the town of Mallard is abuzz because Desiree Vignes is back in town. Several years ago she and her twin sister Stella left town without saying goodbye, leaving behind their mother. No one really expected either of them to return, but Desiree has - with her child, Jude, in tow. She quickly enrolls Jude in school and gets a job in the diner, but doesn't know where Stella is. 

Mallard is a tiny town in Louisiana, and isn't on any maps. It was founded by a Black person, and all its inhabitants are Black, but over time they have become paler and indeed, Stella can later be mistaken for a white woman, although we don't find that out until later. But there is an emphasis on the light skinned people who live in the town, and when Desiree arrives with Jude everyone is incensed because Jude is dark skinned. The family have to cope with prejudice against her in the time she lives in Mallard. 

We next go back in time to when Desiree and Stella were teenagers. Stella wants to stay in school but their mother insists she leaves and gets a job. Desiree is desperate to leave their small town but also has to get a job. Then Stella says she'll go with Desiree, so one night they leave and go to New Orleans. We follow Desiree as she gets a job and falls in love with Jude's father. He beats her and treats her badly which is why she then escapes back to Mallard and her mother. We learn that Stella left one night and Desiree has no idea where she is. She's never been in touch with her mother either. 

Jude grows up and heads to LA for college. She meets Reese, a trans man who has escaped his own small town in Texas I think. This is the late 70s so transitioning is in no way easy, but Reese was one of my favourite characters throughout the whole book. I loved him and Jude. They make friends with drag queens around the area and find a found family. I loved their relationship too. 

Jude starts waitressing in LA and at the very middle of the book, she's at a swanky party when Stella walks in. Jude smashes a bottle of wine and is fired... and then we go over to Stella's story. She found she could pass as a white woman and that's what she's done all her life. She is married and has a daughter, Kennedy. She has spent her whole life terrified of being 'found out' and trying to bury her past. I liked her story too, even though she's not exactly the hero in her story. 

I loved the book and thought it was really deftly woven together and kept my interest. I'm giving this five out of five and am looking forward to seeing what everyone else thought of it!

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