‘The Vanishing Half’ – Brit Bennett

This was a story that I’m so pleased I had the opportunity to read thanks to the publishers and NetGalley, and I can’t wait to see what others make of what I genuinely feel is a must-read story.

Desiree and Stella Vignes are twins, and the main focus of our story. When they were little they witnessed their father dragged from his home by white men and killed. They live in a small town called Mallard that cannot be found on any map, where anyone with dark skin is looked down upon. Is it any wonder that after such a beginning they might not feel comfortable here?

The girls leave Mallard for a new life. Together, they feel they can take on anything, no matter how difficult it gets. Illegal work in a laundry and sleeping on a friend’s floor is not ideal, but they’re managing. Then one day Desiree comes home to discover Stella has gone.

Our story is told through the viewpoints of a number of characters (Desiree, Stella, and their respective daughters) and piece by piece we establish what each has done and how their early life has set up their present. From Desiree escaping an abusive marriage to return home with her dark-skinned daughter, to Stella living in constant fear that she will be found out for passing as white for so long. We watch Jude leave the racist taunts for a new life in California where she finds love with Reese, a man facing his own battles, and we follow Kennedy as she tries to find herself and come to terms with the truths she learns about her mother.

We are set in a changing world where race and attitudes to it remain something to examine. There were so many painful stories, and though I understood the choices Stella made it still felt unbearably hard that she should feel that was necessary.

The main characters of the twins had a complex relationship, but it was their daughters who I found fascinating. In these two girls there were signs of shifting attitudes on a number of subjects, and their stubborn refusal to ignore each other gave an indication that family connections run deeper than we might think.