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The Vanishing Half
Cover of The Vanishing Half
The Vanishing Half
A Novel
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERLONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD A GOOD MORNING AMERICA Book Club Pick “Bennett’s tone and style recalls James Baldwin and Jacqueline...
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERLONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD A GOOD MORNING AMERICA Book Club Pick “Bennett’s tone and style recalls James Baldwin and Jacqueline...
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  • #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
    LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD 
    A GOOD MORNING AMERICA Book Club Pick 

    “Bennett’s tone and style recalls James Baldwin and Jacqueline Woodson, but it’s especially reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s 1970 debut novel, The Bluest Eye.” —Kiley Reid, Wall Street Journal 

    A story of absolute, universal timelessness …For any era, it's an accomplished, affecting novel. For this moment, it's piercing, subtly wending its way toward questions about who we are and who we want to be….” – Entertainment Weekly

    From The New York Times-bestselling author of The Mothers, a stunning new novel about 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. 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.
    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.

Excerpts-

  • From the book

    One

     

    The morning one of the lost twins returned to Mallard, Lou LeBon ran to the diner to break the news, and even now, many years later, everyone remembers the shock of sweaty Lou pushing through the glass doors, chest heaving, neckline darkened with his own effort. The barely awake customers clamored around him, ten or so, although more would lie and say that they'd been there too, if only to pretend that this once, they'd witnessed something truly exciting. In that little farm town, nothing surprising ever happened, not since the Vignes twins had disappeared. But that morning in April 1968, on his way to work, Lou spotted Desiree Vignes walking along Partridge Road, carrying a small leather suitcase. She looked exactly the same as when she'd left at sixteen-still light, her skin the color of sand barely wet. Her hipless body reminding him of a branch caught in a strong breeze. She was hurrying, her head bent, and-Lou paused here, a bit of a showman-she was holding the hand of a girl, eight or so, and black as tar.

     

    "Blueblack," he said. "Like she flown direct from Africa."

     

    Lou's Egg House splintered into a dozen different conversations. The line cook wondered if it had been Desiree after all, since Lou was turning sixty in May and still too vain to wear his eyeglasses. The waitress said that it had to be-even a blind man could spot a Vignes girl and it certainly couldn't have been that other one. The diners, abandoning grits and eggs on the counter, didn't care about that Vignes foolishness-who on earth was the dark child? Could she possibly be Desiree's?

     

    "Well, who else's could it be?" Lou said. He grabbed a handful of napkins from the dispenser, dabbing his damp forehead.

     

    "Maybe it's an orphan that got took in."

     

    "I just don't see how nothin that black coulda come out Desiree."

     

    "Desiree seem like the type to take in no orphan to you?"

     

    Of course she didn't. She was a selfish girl. If they remembered anything about Desiree, it was that and most didn't recall much more. The twins had been gone fourteen years, nearly as long as anyone had ever known them. Vanished from bed after the Founder's Day dance, while their mother slept right down the hall. One morning, the twins crowded in front of their bathroom mirror, four identical girls fussing with their hair. The next, the bed was empty, the covers pulled back like any other day, taut when Stella made it, crumpled when Desiree did. The town spent all morning searching for them, calling their names through the woods, wondering stupidly if they had been taken. Their disappearance seemed as sudden as the rapture, all of Mallard the sinners left behind.

     

    Naturally, the truth was neither sinister nor mystical; the twins soon surfaced in New Orleans, selfish girls running from responsibility. They wouldn't stay away long. City living would tire them out. They'd run out of money and gall and come sniffling back to their mother's porch. But they never returned again. Instead, after a year, the twins scattered, their lives splitting as evenly as their shared egg. Stella became white and Desiree married the darkest man she could find.

     

    Now she was back, Lord knows why. Homesick, maybe. Missing her mother after all those years or wanting to flaunt that dark daughter of hers. In Mallard, nobody married dark. Nobody left either, but Desiree had already done that. Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.

     

    In Lou's Egg House, the crowd dissolved, the line cook snapping on his hairnet, the...

Reviews-

  • Library Journal

    January 1, 2020

    After achieving Hopwood and Hurston/Wright honors and debuting big with The Mothers, Bennett here features identical twin sisters, who at age 16 run away from their small, black, 1950s Southern town and take different paths, one passing for white. What's key is the relationship between their daughters.

    Copyright 2020 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from March 2, 2020
    Bennett (The Mothers) explores a Louisiana family’s navigation of race, from the Jim Crow era through the 1980s, in this impressive work. The Vignes twins, Desiree and Stella, were born and raised in Mallard, La., the slave-born founder of which imagined a town with “each generation lighter than the one before.” In the early 1940s, when the twins are little, they witness their father’s lynching, and as they come of age, they harbor ambitions to get out. Desiree, the more headstrong sister, leads Stella to New Orleans when they are 16, and after a few months, the quiet, studious Stella, who once dreamt of enrolling in an HBCU, disappears one night. In 1968, 14 years later, still with no word from Stella, Desiree is back in Mallard with her eight-year-old daughter, Jude, having left her abusive ex-husband. When Jude is older, she makes her own escape from Mallard to attend college in Los Angeles. At a party, Jude glimpses a woman who looks exactly like Desiree—except she couldn’t be, because this woman is white. Eventually, the Vignes twins reunite, reckoning with the decisions that have shaped their lives. Effortlessly switching between the voices of Desiree, Stella, and their daughters, Bennett renders her characters and their struggles with great compassion, and explores the complicated state of mind that Stella finds herself in while passing as white. This prodigious follow-up surpasses Bennett’s formidable debut.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from April 1, 2020
    Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish. The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets--first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the "fidgety twin," and Stella, "a smart, careful girl," make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: "In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far." Desiree's decision seals Jude's misery in this "colorstruck" place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother's doppelg�nger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete--for the twins without each other; for Jude's boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress. Kin "[find] each other's lives inscrutable" in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from April 15, 2020
    In 1968, Desiree Vignes returns to her Louisiana hometown more than a decade after she and her twin sister, Stella, vanished overnight as teens. Her companion for this flight is her young daughter, Jude, with skin so dark it shocks locals. The twins' ancestor, the freed son of an enslaver, founded Mallard, "a town for men like him, who would never be accepted as white but refused to be treated like Negroes." Still bruised by the husband she fled, Desiree is in survival mode when the man hired to find her decides to help her find Stella, whom no one has heard from in years, instead. Spanning decades, the story travels to UCLA with teenage Jude, unknowingly nearing Stella's world. Cloistered in her Brentwood subdivision, Stella shares nothing of her early life with her husband and teenage daughter, Kennedy, and fiercely protects the presumed whiteness that became the foundation for her entire, carefully constructed life. Reflecting and refracting her story via the four related women?sisters, cousins, mothers, daughters?at its heart, and with an irresistible narrative voice, Bennett (The Mothers, 2016) writes an intergenerational epic of race and reinvention, love and inheritance, divisions made and crossed, binding trauma, and the ever-present past.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The Mothers was a best-selling, award-winning debut, and anticipation for Bennett's second novel has been rising steadily.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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