Book Review: The Vanishing Half

You won’t find Mallard on a map, but if you were ever to visit this tiny town, you’d find an entirely Black community where all the members are white-passing. Desiree and Stella Vignes, twins, descend from the town’s founder. They’re beautiful and respected, but as teens they’re desperate to leave and head to New Orleans in search of a bigger life. There, the girls’ paths diverge. Desiree marries a black man who eventually becomes abusive, forcing her to return home with a daughter whose complexion is so dark she will never be accepted in Mallard. Stella moves further away, cuts all ties, marries, and lives as white. A couple decades later, their respective daughters meet.

The way Bennett reveals escapism as expressed by different generations of the same family is beautiful. In some way, each character of the book has a moment where their life splits and pivots. And I’m not just talking about Desiree and Stella. Jude, Kennedy, even Reece and Early have a before/after moment. That distinct instance when life shifted. This book is about identity. As every character runs to escape something, are they running to or from their true identity? When is identity lost, as in the case of Adele or the town of Mallard in the end; and when is it found?

4.75 out of 5 stars. Why did I subtract points from one of the most lauded books of the year? Because I felt like the book was racing towards something big for Stella and Kennedy or Jude and Kennedy and the end was far simpler, less dramatic. It was far more realistic, just not what I was expecting based on the pace of the book. But it was absolutely beautiful. I Bennett’s first book years ago and loved…I may have liked this one even more?!

Pair with: Lemonade spiked with gin and a splash of soda water