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The Vanishing Half

(11 customer reviews)


by Brit Bennett




“Bennett’s tone and style recall James Baldwin and Jacqueline Woodson, but it’s especially reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s 1970 debut novel, The Bluest Eye.” —Kiley Reid, Wall Street Journal 

A story of absolute, universal timelessness …For any era, it’s an accomplished, affecting novel. For this moment, it’s piercing, subtly wending its way toward questions about who we are and who we want to be….” – Entertainment Weekly

From The New York Times-bestselling author of The Mothers, a stunning new novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black, and one white.

When the Vignes twin sisters were growing up, they were inseparable. But now, as adults, they have taken two paths: one is living in the same community with her black daughter, whom she has known all her life; The other goes white and lives with loved ones who have no idea where she came from. Propulsive and compassionate, Bennett’s follow up to The Mothers is not be missed.


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About this book

361 Pages
7 - 8 Hours to read
98k Total words




“Bennett’s tone and style recall James Baldwin and Jacqueline Woodson, but it’s especially reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s 1970 debut novel, The Bluest Eye.” —Kiley Reid, Wall Street Journal 

A story of absolute, universal timelessness …For any era, it’s an accomplished, affecting novel. For this moment, it’s piercing, subtly wending its way toward questions about who we are and who we want to be….” – Entertainment Weekly

From The New York Times-bestselling author of The Mothers, a stunning new novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black, and one white.

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, 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. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly pass 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’ storylines 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 passingLooking 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.

As with her New York Times-bestselling debut The Mothers, Brit Bennett offers an engrossing page-turner about family and relationships that is immersive and provocative, compassionate, and wise.

  • Penguin Publishing Group; June 2020
  • ISBN: 9780525536970
  • Title: The Vanishing Half
  • Author: Brit Bennett
  • Imprint: Riverhead Books
  • Language: English

In The Press

Praise for The Vanishing Half:

“[Bennett’s] second [book], The Vanishing Half, more than lives up to her early promise….. more expansive yet also deeper, a multi-generational family saga that tackles prickly issues of racial identity and bigotry and conveys the corrosive effects of secrets and dissembling. It’s also a great read that will transport you out of your current circumstances, whatever they are… The Mothers, this novel keeps you turning pages not just to find out what happens.” – NPR

“Bennett’s gorgeously written second novel, an ambitious meditation on race and identity, considers the divergent fates of twin sisters, born in the Jim Crow South after one decides to pass for white. Bennett balances the literary demands of dynamic characterization with the historical and social realities of her subject matter.” – The New York Times

“A story of absolute, universal timelessness — a story of what it means to simply be, to grow up and define oneself and reinvent, to negotiate a peace in the world. It’s also a deeply American story, rigorously engaged with a country’s racist past and present, while interrogatives of its foundational values, like choice and legacy. For any era, it’s an accomplished, affecting novel. For this moment, it’s piercing, subtly wending its way toward questions about who we are and who we want to be….” – Entertainment Weekly 

“Beautifully written, thought-provoking, and immersive… Issues of privilege, inter-generational trauma, the randomness and unfairness of it all, are teased apart in all their complexity, within a story that also touches on universal themes of love, identity, and belonging…  The Vanishing Half, with its clever premise and strongly developed characters, is unputdownable and highly recommended.” – Associated Press

“Bennett pulls it off brilliantly… Few novels manage to remain interesting from start to finish, even — maybe especially — the brilliant ones. But… Bennett locks readers in and never lets them go… Stunning…She leaves any weighty parallels — between, for example, racial and gender determinism — to the reader. Her restraint is the novel’s great strength, and it’s tougher than it looks… The Vanishing Half speaks ultimately of a universal vanishing. It concerns half of everyone that disappears once we leave home — love or hate the place, love, or hate ourselves.” – Los Angeles Times
“Provides a meditation on the nuance of the race that feels important, now more than ever. It’s the kind of novel that demands to be read — a propulsive, heartfelt work that keeps its reader both glued to the page and chastened by the idea that soon the experience will come to an end. . . You can call The Vanishing Half an escape, but it’s a meaningful one.” – InStyle

“My hope is that the warranted praise Ms. Bennett receives for this novel will have less to do with her efficient handling of timely, or ‘relevant,’ subject matter than for her insights into the mysterious compound of what we call truth: a mixture of the identities we’re born with and those we create.”—Wall Street Journal

“Reinvention and erasure are two sides of the same coin. Bennett asks us to consider the meaning of authenticity when we are faced with racism, colorism, sexism, and homophobia. What price do we pay to be ourselves? How many of us choose to escape what is expected of us? And what happens to the other side of the equation, the side we leave behind? The Vanishing Half answers all these questions in this exquisite story of love, survival, and triumph.” – The Washington Post

“A stunning page-turner… It’s a powerful story about family, compassion, identity, and roots… You will be thinking about The Vanishing Half long after you turn the final page.” – Good Morning America

“Intricately plotted, exceedingly moving story…with insights into the social and cultural history of passing, while telling what is at heart a tender story about sisterhood, identity and, as Bennett said, ‘the endlessly interesting question of which elements in our identity are innate, and which do we choose?'” – San Francisco Chronicle

“Breathtaking plot.” People

“I don’t think I’ve read a book that covers passing in the way that this one does… epic.” —Kiley Reid in O, the Oprah Magazine

“Here, in her sensitive, elegant prose, [Bennett] evokes both the strife of racism and what it does to a person even if they can evade some of its elements.”Vogue

“Bennett creates a striking portrait of racial identity in America.” TIME

“Bennett writes like a master, reminiscent of Toni Morrison, Anne Tyler, and Elizabeth Strout.” —BookPage

“This is sure to be one of 2020’s best and boldest… A tale of family, identity, race, history, and perception, Bennett’s next masterpiece is a triumph of the character-driven narrative.” —Elle
“A marvel…The Vanishing Half is an intergenerational examination of identity, and what it’s like to grow up in a body you’ve been conditioned to feel ashamed of. It’s a poignant family story that doesn’t shy away from the intersections of race, class, and gender—all while capturing the reader’s heart and mind in a way only Bennett can.” – The Rumpus

“Irresistible … an intergenerational epic of race and reinvention, love and inheritance, divisions made and crossed, binding trauma, and the ever-present past.” —Booklist, STARRED Review

“Assured and magnetic. . .Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism…calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book’s 50-year-old antecedent. . . .  [a] rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.”—Kirkus, STARRED review

“Impressive … This prodigious follow-up surpasses Bennett’s formidable debut.”— Publishers Weekly, STARRED review

The Vanishing Half is an utterly mesmerizing novel, which gripped me from the first word to the last. It seduces with its literary flair, surprises with its breath-taking plot twists, delights with its psychological insights, and challenges us to consider the corrupting consequences of racism on different communities and individual lives. I absolutely loved this book.” — Bernardine Evaristo, Booker Prize-winning author of Girl, Woman, Other

“The detail and the feeling showcased in every sentence Brit Bennett writes is breathtaking. The Vanishing Half is a novel that shows just how human emotion, uncertainty, and longing can be captured and put on paper.” —Candice Carty-Williams, author of Queenie

“A novel of an immense, shining, powerful  intelligence.”  —Deborah Levy, two-time Booker-shortlisted novelist

“An impressive and arresting novel. Perceptive in its insights and poised in execution, this is an important, timely examination of the impact of race on personality, experience, and relationships.” —Diana Evans, the Orange Award-winning author of Ordinary People

The Vanishing Half should mark the induction of Brit Bennett into the small group of likely successors to Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, and Nella Larsen..”  —Sara Collins, author of The Confessions of Frannie Langton

About The Author

Brit Bennett is the author of the New York Times–bestselling novel The Mothers; a finalist for the NBCC John Leonard Prize for the best first book, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, and the New York Public Library Young Lions Award; and a National Book Foundation 5 under 35 honoree. Her work has been featured in The New YorkerThe New York Times MagazineThe Paris Review, and Jezebel.

Additional information


Hardcover, Paperback

11 reviews for The Vanishing Half

  1. Daniel S

    This book is about choices and circumstance. It tells the story of twin girls growing up in the segregated South. They live in a town that is colorstruck inhabited by light skinned black people. Both sisters, in their own way, rebel against the strictures of the town They run away as teenagers and wind up rebelling in very different fashions. One sister marries an extremely dark skinned man and has a dark skinned daughter. The other sister passes for white and lives a privileged life. Their stories…and the backstories of their forebears is told over a span of almost forty years, beginning in the 1950s. The novel has an arresting narrative and focuses on the choices people make, the secrets they hold and the consequences that unfold from this dynamic.

  2. Georgia D.

    I agree with reviews I have read. This is a must read. I couldn’t put it down. I hope there are many more books to follow. What a talented writer. I have to go take a nap. I missed a whole night of sleep. I highly recommend this book.

  3. kathleen g

    Absolutely wonderful exploration of race, identity, lies, and familial love. Desiree and Stella were born in the town of Mallard- a town where everyone is part black and the whiter they are the better. Desiree is restless, though, and persuades Stella to run away with her when they are 16, not realizing what she has set in motion. She returns with her very dark daughter Jude while Stella vanishes into a new life where she passes for white, so much so that no one, not her husband, not her very blonde daughter Kennedy know until…..It’s the story of Jude and Kennedy and also of Early and Reese (and his friends), the very good men in these women’s lives. And their father, who is seen only in vignette but whose death Stella dreams about over and over. Ranging through the years and across the US, it’s told from third person perspective of each woman and her daughter. I was captivated by this, not only because of the characters, but also because of the writing. There are some gorgeous passages that make you see the touch of Desiree’s hand on Early’s neck or the pool where Stella sips gin in the morning. Thanks to edelweiss for the ARC. One of the best of the year and well deserving of the praise it has received. Highly recommend.

  4. C. Pate

    Excellent read. Being light and darn near white myself I related to the story and enjoyed being a captured audience. Ms Bennett holds the reader and makes you eager to find out what will happen next. Her characters are complex, interesting and very real.One can see that she researched the material right down to the family and town names that were used.Thank you for an entertaining and well written story.

  5. Patti Heller

    Excellent! I didn’twant it to end. What a great writer!Don’t miss this one! You’ll thank me when you finish!


    I loved this book and the complex characters inhabiting the story. As the offspring of a twin, the complicated truths rang true.

  7. Veronica L. Howard

    I gave this book 5 stars because I really enjoyed reading it. The characters were relatable. I just wished the one sister would’ve found her truth and came back home, one more last time when her sister needed her. I guess you’re going to have to read the book to find out which sister I’m talking about. I loved the plot and I enjoyed reading about the twins and how their life’s choices separated them, when they should have been there for each other.

  8. teresa clarkson

    This book was such a great read, drawing you in, I read it in twodays, not doing my work…couldn’t wait to get back to it,sad to finish it, I grew up In the south during the exact same timePeriod the book was written and it was true to my memories.

  9. edbusa

    This is clearly a case off false advertising. I expected the book to convey a story on the dynamics identical twins raised in the racist south. THIS WAS NOT THE CORE OF THE BOOK. Instead it focused on the dynamics of the LGBTQ community. I have absolutely no interest in such matters. Thoroughly disappointed.

  10. J. Baker

    The premise of the story about the twins lives got lost in many pages of LGBTQ trans issues. It was like there was not enough going on with the sisters lives, the author felt it necessary to throw this red herring into the story. And I don’t say plot because it was not part of the plot. I was very intrigued about the lives of the sisters, but I got no satisfaction of what made them what they were. They just moved from one day to the next like they could not take charge of their lives. They each suffered a malaise that was similarly experienced but the author was too lazy to explore it. Ending was unsatisfying and abrupt.

  11. mike

    Especially at this time with BLM in the news I appreciated reading about 2 different journeys of blackness & whiteness by twin sisters filled with heartache, love, and the meaning of family.

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