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The Vanishing Half

Narrated by: Shayna Small
Length: 11 hrs and 34 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (50 ratings)

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Summary

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, Southern black community and running away at age 16, 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. 

Ten 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' story lines 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.

©2020 Brit Bennett (P)2020 Hachette Audio UK

Critic reviews

"A writer to watch." (Washington Post)

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An Important Read

Where to begin with this book? There are so many angles and themes that you could take this from... It has an intriguing opening - a bit like a 'what if' scenario - an unmarked town full of light skinned people who think of themselves as superior to other black people. Then a set of twins, who slip off into the night one summer, leaving no trace. Only for one twin to return as suddenly as she left, followed by a little dark skinned girl...

The multi-generational story really dives into the details of prejudice, systemic racism and most importantly, the often overlooked issue of colorism. It also looks at families, contains complex mother-daughter relationships and in a very understated way also looks at the effect of broken homes and the importance of the father.

The story is fictional but is plotted against important historic events in American history. This framing means that it is realistic, but with a slight displacement that stops it feeling as raw or uncomfortable as some may otherwise have found it. This is with the exception of one violent scene that really saddened me but even this (like most of the harsher scenes in the book) was softened around the edges by being recalled as a memory . It also makes unfamiliar topics completely accessible to anyone through quality story telling (there are two in particular that I have in mind, one is colorism but I don't want to spoil the second for anyone else).

Pacing wise, I found it occasionally a bit slow for my liking, especially towards the end, but there was great tension. If you are the type who likes explosive scenes then you will not find much joy here. The storyline doesn't really carry a shock factor in terms of twists and turns but it certainly takes you by the hand and really makes you think and reflect and savour the range of emotion it induces - it uses your own understandings about family to penetrate your depths.

This is a book that demands attention - I listened to this on Audible and there are several time jumps that are woven together masterfully - you cannot skim read or listen while half concentrated on something else. If your mind wanders for a second, you will find yourself lost. It is worth every drop of your attention though. The reader did a great job too. I usually have to have the ebook in front of me whilst I read or I lose focus but I found myself engaged even though I didn't get the ebook this time.

The ending was satisfying and unhurried too. It was realistic - not so neat and perfect that it felt silly but it still felt complete. I would highly recommend this book, whichever format you choose to read it in.

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A powerful story

This was an excellent novel that explored some sensitive issues in an open way. All round excellent

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beautiful and captivating

i loved this book. i could have read about these womens lives forever. so captivating.

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A must read!

Clever, plot twisting and page turning. Touches so many important themes.
Great narration too! Would highly recommend.

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This book was incredible.

Amazing performance by Shayna Small. The writing was incredible, so layered, nuanced and captivating. An extremely powerful interweaving of many narratives and paths crossed. Brit Bennett is a hero for this generation. BRILLIANT.

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illiminating

I found this book enjoyable and thought provoking. I never imagined a life situation could exist like that depicted.

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Enjoyable and enlightening

I enjoyed this unusual book about the harsh choices faced in the segregated south. Interesting travel through changing attitudes from the 1960s. Characters and plot were believable. Would recommend. Voices good too.

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Profile Image for Janice Birnie
  • Janice Birnie
  • 14-06-20

A superbly written and narrated novel.

The Vanishing Half is one of the most thought provoking novels I’ve listened to in a very long time. At this point in history I think it’s a must read/listen. It is a beautifully written story that left this reader deeply moved. It is at times heartbreaking, but it also leaves you hopeful given the strength and resilience of its characters. This story will stay with me always.
The narration was superb.
Highly recommended