Look at how pretty this book is.
I am serious: take a minute to ignore the Lego boxes hiding behind the books and truly appreciate how absolutely gorgeous the Waterstones exclusive edition of the Vanishing Half is. I will be honest, I bought this book for the purely superficial reason that it would look gorgeous on my shelf, and it delivered (don’t even get me started on the gorgeous purple hardcover underneath the dust jacket or I might never actually tell you anything about the book itself).
This is the proof that you can indeed judge books by their covers, and I am so happy with the joy this particular frivolous purchase brought me, because not only is the book beautiful, but so is the story. But I digress.
The Vanishing Half is a strange book to explain because while the reading experience is wonderful, and the character work absolutely amazing, not much actually happens in the book. It’s a generational family tale about twin sisters, black but white-passing, who run away from home in their teens. I don’t want to give too much away because as I said, there’s not much going on in the first place. But I will try.
Stella and Desiree have grown up in Mallard, a black town in the American South whose inhabitants have been “lightening” themselves through the generations. 10 years after running away together, but not having heard from her sister in almost as long, Desiree returns to Mallard with her much darker daughter Jude, running away from her abusive husband. Jude grows up and moves to California for college, where she eventually comes face to face with her mother’s face.
This book is a beautiful character study. It discusses issues of race over time and from a perspective I hadn’t considered before, but it also goes well beyond that. There is beautiful trans representation as well, which I was really pleasantly surprised about, and the way the author contrasted the experiences of “passing as white while hiding who you really are” and “passing as a cis-man so there’s no need to hide who you really are” was superb.
All in all, it’s a slow-paced family chronicle which is not usually my jam, but I really enjoyed this. I can’t say the ending was quite satisfying, but it rang true. Overall a somewhat sad, thought-provoking read. I’d rate it a 4.5, but I’m rounding up.