Read by Shayna Small
Published June 2020 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library
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.
I've started this review four times now. Why is always the books you enjoy the most that are the hardest to talk about? It's somehow easier for me to put into words what I didn't like a book than why I did; and the more I like the book, the harder it seems to be. Not only am I having a hard time telling you about the book; but, for once, the publisher's summary does a marvelous job summarizing the book and I agree that the book is riveting and emotional.
The summary is also right that The Vanishing Half is about the way the past shapes a person's decisions, desires, and expectations. Bennett also writes about family, mother/daughter relationships, abuse, race in a way we don't always consider it, sexual orientation, truth, and love and she does it beautifully, in a way that never feels like she's forcing more issues into her story. The characters and relationships are complex and while I didn't necessarily like all of them, I certainly understood them. Because Bennett moves her story forward by telling it through multiple character's lives, we get the opportunity to really get to know them even as the book takes leaps in time.
I have yet to read Bennett's debut novel, The Mothers. It certainly garnered a tremendous amount of praise and it's always hard for a sophomore effort to live up to a debut like that. I can't compare the two but I can tell you that this one deserves all of the accolades it's bond to earn and I can't think that anyone who read The Mothers will be disappointed. I'll be going back to The Mothers while I look forward to Bennett's future writings.
One last thing - this is a book that I would highly recommend listening to; Shayna Small does a marvelous job and I'll be looking forward to finding more of her work as well.