If you haven’t heard about The Vanishing Half, then I have to wonder if you pay attention to the reading trends. I’m kidding… kind of. This book has been shared and spread and talked about for months. I can’t go to a media outlet that covers books and not see it. I even saw it mentioned in a beauty YouTuber’s video. It’s really making the rounds, and for good reason.
The Vignes sisters grew up in a town called Mallard where everyone is light-skinned. They marry light-skinned people and the result is that most of the town, if not all of it, is white passing. The Vignes twins, Desiree and Stella, are sixteen years old when they runaway, and it isn’t until many years later when Desiree returns with her daughter Jude, a dark-skinned girl, that our story really starts.
Desiree leaves home, finds love in a lawyer who happens to be very dark. They have a child that is dark like him and Desiree can’t seem to find anything in her daughter that looks like her. But when the relationship with her husband becomes dangerous, Desiree grabs Jude and runs to the only place she knows she can hide: Mallard. The town does not embrace Jude and Jude spends her young life being treated like garbage for the shade of her skin.
Stella leaves home and decides to shun her black parts and instead pass as white, live as white. She marries her boss and then moves out to Los Angeles where she lives in a big house with her white husband and their white-passing daughter. Although Kennedy does not know that she is only passing. Stella staunchly opposes a black family moving into her neighborhood in fear that they will recognize her for what she is.
This story is multi-generational focusing primarily on the mother and daughter timelines of Desiree, Stella, Jude, and Kennedy. The family relationships and the complexities of being black, white-passing, and the prejudices (internalized and not) are exposed and discussed in great detail. It really opens your eyes to different ways that blackness is expressed in America. It’s beautifully written as well, I read this in a day because I couldn’t stop to do anything else. I’m glad my hold came in from the library when it did. I may not have been able to carve out the time for it any other day. I encourage you to pick this up, I’m planning on picking up Britt Bennet’s first novel The Mothers soon because of this.