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“The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett

Shades of Identity

By Kristiyan ParzulovPublished 4 months ago 4 min read

A complex and multi-layered story, Brit Bennett’s “The Vanishing Half” examines the complex relationships between race, family, identity, and individual decisions. The narrative takes place in the made-up town of Mallard, Louisiana, which is peculiarly fixated on light skin. The lives of African American identical twins Desiree and Stella Vignes, whose paths diverge greatly, are framed by this environment. The book explores how their decisions impact not just their own lives but also the lives of their offspring over the course of several decades.

Mallard, Louisiana

The Vignes family founded the town of Mallard, where the tale opens in the 1960s. The people who live in Mallard’s racial landscape are singularly fixated on having light skin because they think it holds the secret to a better life. Desiree and Stella Vignes, twins, are raised in a restrictive and suffocating atmosphere where they are acutely conscious of the significance of their skin tone.

At the age of sixteen, Desiree, the more bold and rebellious twin, makes the drastic decision to leave Mallard. She embarks on a voyage that would take her far from her roots, leaving behind an abusive marriage to a guy with dark complexion. Stella, on the other hand, stays in Mallard and finally vanishes without a trace. Stella chose to “pass” as a white woman in order to hide her true ethnic origin.

Stella’s decision to “pass” raises issues of the malleability of identity and how it may be shaped or concealed to survive in a culture that values skin tone and race highly. Her change from a black girl to a white woman serves as an example of the privilege associated with having lighter skin. Stella’s ability to pass serves as a reminder of how much a person’s skin tone may influence their life.

New Orleans

Desiree moves to New Orleans to start over with her young daughter Jude. After a sequence of circumstances, she finds work as a waitress and has a loving and friendly relationship with a man named Early. After a while, Kennedy is the second daughter that Desiree and Early had together. Desiree’s hope for Stella’s return lingers in the background of her life, despite her best efforts to put her past behind her.

Stella, however, has adapted to her new life as a white woman with ease. Kennedy is the name of the daughter she shares with her spouse, Blake, a white guy. Stella becomes an expert at upholding her façade since she always fears having her secret discovered.

Los Angeles

The story moves to the 1980s, where Jude, Desiree’s daughter, becomes the main character. Jude’s darker appearance than Kennedy’s makes her connection with her sister more difficult. Now that the kids are teenagers and go to a mostly white school in Los Angeles, Jude is forced to face her race.

When Jude meets Reese, a transgender guy who introduces her to LGBTQ+ culture, her life drastically changes. Jude starts to discover who she is via Reese, and she eventually comes to value her originality and distinctiveness. Reese’s character contributes to the novel’s larger topics by offering a viewpoint on gender identification.

Returning to Mallard

Desiree and Jude reunite in Mallard to attend her mother’s funeral following a protracted period of estrangement. She decides to break the long-held quiet and tell her family about Stella’s disappearance and “passing” during this visit. Despite being surprised and perplexed, her family finally accepts her return.

Desiree’s disclosure and the reunion provide a gripping examination of the enduring effects of family secrets and the complex web of ties. It serves as an example of how individual decisions, identity, and time can alter the relationships within a family. The book examines race’s intricacies in the setting of a family in greater detail.

The Reunion

A series of incidents that further explore the nuances of race and identity are initiated when Jude learns of Stella’s true identity. Stella’s daughter Kennedy is told about her mother’s history. Kennedy is unable to contain her emotions and is perplexed when she finally meets Desiree. The book explores the complex relationships between race and identity as well as the lasting effects of long-kept family secrets.

Kennedy’s persona provides a means of investigating how the disclosure of a familial secret might fundamentally change a person’s sense of self. The mental conflict and emotional outburst she experienced highlight the significant consequences of Stella’s decision to “pass.”


The characters in “The Vanishing Half” come to terms with their own identities and decisions as the story comes to an end. It underscores the fact that some facets of our existence are unavoidable, regardless of how well they are hidden. The book pushes readers to think critically about racism, race, and the nuances of “passing.”

Brit Bennett skillfully interweaves the lives of the Vignes twins and their offspring throughout the book, illuminating how their decisions have a lasting impact on both their own and their loved ones’ lives. The novel tells a gripping tale of family, secrets, and the unbreakable ties that bind us all together while challenging readers to consider their conceptions of race and identity.

In conclusion, “The Vanishing Half” offers a compelling examination of the subtleties surrounding race and identity. It deftly explores how race, family, and personal decisions interact, allowing readers to consider how they see these important topics. For those seeking literature that provokes thought, “The Vanishing Half” is a must-read because of Bennett’s captivating and profoundly intelligent storytelling. The book emphasizes the importance of family, the decisions we make, and the significant effects of long-kept secrets on our lives and the lives of people we love.

If you enjoyed my summary then you should definitely check out the full book here.

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About the Creator

Kristiyan Parzulov

I Give my Personal Book Reviews 👏👏 of the Most Popular Bestsellers!

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