Though it’s been almost a year since it was published, Brit Bennett’s poignant exploration of race and identity across the generations of one family remains highly sought after from the library. And its popularity is likely to continue, as there are rumors of an HBO series based on the book, to be produced by Issa Rae’s production company Hoorae.
The Vanishing Half begins with the story of twin sisters, Stella and Desiree, growing up in a small southern black community with a peculiar racial history: the founders of the community favored African Americans with lighter complexions over darker and married to preserve the lightness of their bloodlines. The girls are inseparable as children, but when Stella finds that her light-skin causes her to be mistaken for white, she chooses to deny her roots, run away, and live a life in California as a white woman. Desiree, meanwhile, marries a black man from DC, who turns out to be very abusive, and she ultimately returns to her small hometown with a daughter that is looked down upon by the community for her darker complexion.
The story then picks up about twenty years later, when Desiree’s daughter and Stella’s daughter accidentally stumble into each others lives, and begin to learn the truth of Stella’s deception.
So, while you are waiting for your copy of The Vanishing Half, here are some other recent discussion-worthy titles about communities grappling with issues of class, race, and identity you might want to consider.
What’s Mine and Yours by Naimi Coster: What’s Mine and Yours also contains a story of “passing”. One of the mothers, who is white, hopes to help her half-Colombian daughters pass as white, and even instigates conflict in the community over a school integration plan. The other mother, African American, on the other side of the conflict, does what she can to raise her intelligent but recalcitrant son in the wake of her partner’s murder. The children will make every attempt to reject the truth of their pasts, but the bonds of family are stronger than they seem.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: The community of Shaker Heights thinks they’re doing just fine preserving their suburban charm and raising their children in privilege. That is until Mia and her daughter Pearl move in. Mia is intensely free-spirited and bucks against the rigidness of the community, which sends suburban queen Elena Richardson on a quest to uncover Mia’s closely guarded past. Will either of the two strong-willed women bend before disaster occurs?
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: For newlyweds Celestial and Roy, the future couldn’t be brighter. They live a happy life, enjoy their careers, and have warm family and friends. That is, until Roy is falsely accused of assault and arrested. Faced with this level of atrocity, both Roy and Celestial each become people they never thought they would be: mean, jealous, selfish. They are forced to reckon with the idea that they will never erase this moment and return to the life that was once promised to them.
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane: In Ask Again Yes, the younger generation tries everything in their power to eliminate the tragic events that occurred between their parents in a suburban New Jersey town. The story incorporates the difficulties of family loyalty and the too common denial of mental illness.