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 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' 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 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.
Born and raised in Southern California, Brit Bennett graduated from Stanford University and earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award in Graduate Short Fiction as well as the 2014 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. She is a National Book Foundation "5 under 35" honoree, and her essays are featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and Jezebel.
EDUCATION: •Received BA in English from Stanford University; MFA from University of Michigan; also studied at Oxford University •Currently a Zell Postgraduate Fellow in fiction at UMich CAREER: “Her essay on the Jezebel website entitled "I Don't Know What to Do With Good White People,” received 1 million views in 3 days. It drew the attention of a literary agent who emailed her wanting to know if she wanted to write a book. BOOKS: •The Mothers – 2016 (NYT Best-seller) •The Vanishing Half – 2020 (hit #1 on NYT, Good Morning America Book Club selection, NYT best book of 2020) oScreen rights for this title have been optioned by HBO. AWARDS: •Named a 5 Under 35 honoree by the National Book Foundation •Named among Time Magazine’s Next 100 Most Influential People •The Mothers - longlisted for the NBCC John Leonard First Novel Prize and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction •The Vanishing Half - longlisted for the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction & the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction PERSONAL: •Born in 1990 •Currently lives in California
1. Would you recommend this book? Did you enjoy it?
2. Considering that Stella and Desiree grew up identical twins and were inseparable until they left Mallard, why do you think they grew into very different women after they became lost to each other? What events led to that division?
3. When did you notice their relationship breaking apart? Do you understand why Stella made the decision to leave Desiree behind? Does she regret her choices?
4. Considering all of the forces that shaped the twins lives and later the forces that shaped their daughters lives. How much influence do you think comes from upbringing, geography, race, gender, class, education? Have you ever discarded an aspect of your own identity? Would you?
5. Kennedy and Jude have very different lives. What impact does privilege have on Kennedy? What impact does the lack of privilege have on Jude? How does this influence the dynamic between them?
6. Do you understand why Desiree decides to return to Mallard as an adult? What does the depiction of Mallard say about who belongs to what communities, and how those communities are formed and enforced?
7. There are several characters who are engaged in performance, Kennedy acting, Barry on stage in costumes. The author makes Stella’s marriage and neighborhood life a performance. What is the author saying about the roles we perform? Are you performing a role rather than being yourself? Is there a distinction made between performance, reinvention, and transformation in respect to the characters in the book.
8. Compare the love interests in the novel- Desiree and Early, Stella and Blake, Reese and Jude? What does truth play in each relationship? How much does either telling or obscuring the truth come into their relationships? How much does the past matter?
9. What do you think The Vanishing Half is trying to say to the reader? What are your takeaways from the book?