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The Vanishing Half

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

Written by Dilinna Ugochukwu



“She’d tell her because, in spite of everything, Loretta was her only friend in the world. Because she knew that, if it came down to her word versus Loretta’s, she would always be believed. And knowing this, she felt, for the first time, truly white.”


The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is a riveting story about black twin sisters Desiree Vigness and Stella Vigness born in the fictional Mallard, Louisiana, and their daughters Jude and Kennedy. The story is set between the 40s and 90s and shows us the lives of Desiree, Stella, Kennedy, and Jude from childhood to adulthood. The premise of the story is that Stella is confused for white when she is a child and from then on decides that once she leaves Mallard, she will become white.


Bennett writes about how Stella wants to control her identity, despite society’s usual racial stratifications, which is very interesting. It reminded me of the old saying, “if it looks like a duck, if it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, it is a duck.” Since everyone around her believed she was white, Stella is able to avoid racial prejudice at the time and take advantage of privileges she otherwise wouldn’t have been afforded.


When both of the sisters leave Mallard, their life’s take completely different trajectories. Becoming white allows Stella to marry a wealthy white man, get a good paying job, pursue an education, and eventually live a cushy life in Los Angeles. Meanwhile Desiree who is just as hard working, eventually finds herself impoverished, back in Mallard with their mother Adele Vignes, and working in a diner. Similarly, their daughters go on different paths as well, Kennedy is easily able to buy anything she wants because of her parents wealth, and pursue a creative career in acting. On the other hand, Jude has to work for everything she has, and has to rely on higher education for social mobility.


I liked how Bennet showed the ridiculous extent Stella was willing to go to in order to become white. For example, when she was pregnant with Kennedy she constantly feared that Kennedy would look black, and if that happened she was contemplating lying and saying she cheated on her husband. Stella is happy when Kennedy is born with blue eyes, blonde hair, and white skin. Additionally, when Kennedy is born, Stella does everything she can to make sure that Kennedy “She’d tell her because, despite everything, Loretta was her only friend in the world. Because she knew that, if it came down to her word versus Loretta’s, she would always be believed. And knowing this, she felt, for the first time, truly white.”


The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is a riveting story about black twin sisters Desiree Vigness and Stella Vigness born in the fictional Mallard, Louisiana, and their daughters Jude and Kennedy. The story is set between the 40s and 90s and shows us the lives of Desiree, Stella, Kennedy, and Jude from childhood to adulthood. The premise of the story is that Stella is mistaken for white when she is a child and from then on decides that once she leaves Mallard, she will become white.


Bennett writes about how Stella wants to control her identity, despite society’s usual racial stratifications, which is very interesting. This reminded me of the old saying, “If it looks like a duck if it walks like a duck and if it quacks like a duck, then it is a duck.” Since everyone around her believed she was white, Stella was able to avoid racial prejudice at the time and take advantage of privileges she otherwise wouldn’t have been afforded.


When both of the sisters leave Mallard, their lives take completely different trajectories. Becoming white allows Stella to marry a wealthy white man, get a good-paying job, pursue an education, and eventually live a luxurious life in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Desiree who is just as hard-working, eventually finds herself impoverished, back in Mallard with their mother Adele Vignes, and working in a diner. Similarly, their daughters go on different paths as well, Kennedy is easily able to buy anything she wants because of her parents' wealth, and pursue a creative career in acting. On the other hand, Jude has to work for everything she has and has to rely on higher education for social mobility.


I liked how Bennet showed the ridiculous extent Stella was willing to go to become white. For example, when she was pregnant with Kennedy she constantly feared that Kennedy would look black, and if that happened she was contemplating lying and saying she cheated on her husband. Stella is happy when Kennedy is born with blue eyes, blonde hair, and white skin. Additionally, when Kennedy is born, Stella does everything she can to make sure that Kennedy never meets her family. Kennedy eventually does find out that her mother was black, through meeting Jude who figures out who Stella is. This is a point of conflict in the book because Stella wants nothing to do with Jude or Desiree, and tries to get Jude to stay away from Kennedy.


I also liked how Bennet portrayed Jude’s relationship with her transgender boyfriend Reese. Jude and Reese both go on a journey of feeling comfortable in their bodies, Jude because of her dark skin, and Reese because of his gender dysphoria. Additionally, I enjoyed the parallel between Reese and Stella’s lives and how they had to leave their old lives behind to become who they are.


Another thing I liked was how Bennet contrasted Stella and Jude’s life. Bennet makes it so that Stella and Jude are on opposite spectrums of blackness. Stella is white-passing and Jude is described as so dark her skin is blue-black. The sisters' hometown of Mallard is a place where everyone is color struck, so Stella is considered the paragon of black beauty, and Jude is mocked and ridiculed throughout her childhood.


One thing I don't quite like in the story, or I guess have mixed feelings about, is the ending of the book. The story ends with Adele Vignes funeral, Jude and Reese sneak off after the funeral and swim in a river in the nearby woods. To me, this ending doesn’t feel like an ending. I've read interpretations that see it as showing Jude and Reese coming to terms with their bodies, but it wasn’t enough for me.


Overall, I think The Vanishing Half is amazing and that a lot of people would enjoy it and should check it out. It explores the relationships between Reese, Jude, Kennedy, Desiree, and Stella really well, and I’d rate the story a 10 out of 10.


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