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The Vanishing Half

Narrated by: Shayna Small
Length: 11 hrs and 34 mins
4.6 out of 5 stars (407 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)

What listeners say about The Vanishing Half

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

3 people found this helpful

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Great booked ruined by narrator

This is SUCH a good story, but the narration kills it I'm afraid. I'm going to buy a physical copy to read and cleanse my brain of the irritation, because every time I think of the story or hear the author's name or the book title, I feel tense. The whole way through listening I felt tense. Couldn't fully relax end enjoy it. This is an important book, as well as being a terrific story. It deserves much better.

2 people found this helpful

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A powerful story

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

2 people found this helpful

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Powerful story written with a tenderness.

I Chose this books on the reviews and it certainly lived up to it high star rating. The summary tells everything you need to know about the book, so I will not bore you with a repetition. The story needs your complete attention as there is so many small details that are important and make the whole a sum if it’s parts. The exploration of black and white, mother daughter relationship, living in isolation, rich and poor, growing up in a fatherless house are beautiful and sensitively told but also in a no holds bare way too. My only criticism of this book is the narrator. Personally I have never been a fan of American narrators and unfortunately Shyna Small just did not deliver this book in a way that I really could connect with it. It was almost that she was trying too hard. Personally I would suggest the exceptional voice of Bahni Turpin to narrate. Despite the criticism as it’s a personal thing, I would highly recommend this book.

1 person found this helpful

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Beautifully written and brilliantly read

This is a stunning novel. The blurb details the premise but narrative is more sweeping and ambitious than it suggests: the author - and narrator - deftly switch characters and across timelines to explore big subjects (race, what makes us who we are, family ties and lost connections and gender). It’s especially prescient in the wake of BLM (but given the speed of the publishing industry must have been written long before the current movement to be out now). One of my favourite books on audio so far. Do listen - it’s a real ‘grower’ and I resoundingly recommend it.

1 person found this helpful

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  • KK
  • 02-08-20

Had potential but never achieved it

enjoyed the premise of this story very much and it held alot of promise, but unfortunately it did not deliver for me. the start was great, alot of background information and developing of the story, but then midway through for me it lost it's way and never came back. I found the jumping around in years to different characters storyline confusing and hard to follow and I think this spoiled the usual enjoyment of the build up to the end. when the end came it was too quick and left a lot of loose ends. I felt quite let down, it didn't really tie anything up and I think the rushed ending meant that some of the story felt unbelievable. It was a shame as I think the story had a lot of potential.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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A fascinating concept - readers will also love Nella Larsen’s Passing

What I expected: A literary novel exploring the concept of passing What I got: Definitely the above, but I also found this had some more pace than most literary novels I read, which I enjoyed. The search for the missing twin gave it another element of intrigue which kept the pages turning. What was missing: *SPOILERS* I felt that the ending didn’t quite deliver everything I was looking for. I had mixed feelings about never seeing Adele’s reaction to Stella’s return. I’m not sure if Adele getting Alzheimer’s - and never remembering Stella even left - was a clever twist in the story or left me feeling unsatisfied that we never see the stand-off between the disappeared daughter/abandoned mother. There were also some instances where I wanted more details or to read the episode in real time e.g. the phone call when Desiree confronts Jude about knowing about Stella and what Stella and Desiree spoke about all night after their reunion. What I loved: Passing is also a fascinating concept which I first came across reading Nella Larsen’s book ‘Passing’ and throws up all sorts of complex, intriguing questions. What this book did differently to Larsen’s, was to look at passing through the lens of a set of twins, where one did the ‘passing’ and the other didn’t, which was an ingenious premise. The sisters’ relationship was shown brilliantly with all its complexities, closeness, affection and crises of identity following the abandonment that affects them both for a lifetime. Would I read it again: I wouldn’t read it again, but I’m really pleased I did read it. It really is an excellent choice for a book club recommendation as there’s so much to discuss and I look forward to doing just that with mine! What about the narration: I thought the narration was pretty spot on and that the individual character voices came across really well. The only thing that niggled me was that the reading was slow, so I listened to it on 1.2x speed which helped.

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Well read and paced book, enjoyed it

An interesting story with good characters and plot. I enjoy books that reference recent history to help gain context. It was well read and easy to listen to.

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AMAZING!!!

Can’t recommend enough. The different character voices are wonderful and I could barely stop listening. Great twists and turns.

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An examination of female relationships & race

I found this book to examine the intricacies of female family relationships - grandmothers, mothers, daughthers, sisters, aunts, and cousins. The premise of a fictional light skinned town puts a spotlight on racism and colourism in a personal way, particularly with the storyline of one of the characters 'passing'. I thought the author did an impressive job of exploring this issue, particularly the complex emotions and experiences this must bring up.

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  • Chantal V
  • 05-07-20

Excellent Read

Captivating story and eloquently read by voice artist. Imagery easily painted in the reader’s mind

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  • 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