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Editorial Reviews

Brit Bennett's stunning audiobook The Vanishing Half follows twins Desiree and Stella: identical other than passing as different races, living entirely different lives with vastly different consequences.

Bennett breaks new ground with the concept of ‘passing’, the ability to be seen as a race other than that which you identify. It asks questions not merely of the characters within, but the society which allows and requires their actions, examining how passing simultaneously exposes and strengthens the performance of race. The story of Stella and Desiree does more than merely detail their similarities and differences, extending out into a tale which spans generations, cities and cultures. It’s also a timely tale of life in the Jim Crow South in the USA and a universal questioning of self and the roles we play within society. 

Half gut-wrenching exploration of race, half spellbinding story, it’s easy to see how The Vanishing Half became one of the most acclaimed books of 2020. You won't be able to hit pause on this heartfelt and thought-provoking audiobook, as narrator Shayna Small ensures you'll be absorbed in every moment, her subtle and soft performance the perfect pairing for a story so intricate.

Publisher's Summary

Sunday Times best seller.

Longlisted for the Women's Prize 2021.

Longlisted for the National Book Award.

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, Southern black community and running away at age 16, 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. 

Ten 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' story lines 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.

©2020 Brit Bennett (P)2020 Hachette Audio UK

Critic Reviews

"A writer to watch." (Washington Post)

"The Vanishing Half is an utterly mesmerising novel. It seduces with its literary flair, surprises with its breath-taking plot twists, delights with its psychological insights, and challenges us to consider the corrupting consequences of racism on different communities and individual lives. I absolutely loved this book." (Bernardine Evaristo, winner of the Booker Prize 2019)

"Bennett allows her characters to follow their worst impulses, and she handles provocative issues with intelligence, empathy and dark humour." (New York Times )

What listeners say about The Vanishing Half

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A vivid story

This novel was picked by my bookclub, I'm not sure I would have chosen it myself as the story seemed a little fantastical. That would have been a shame because this is a wonderful novel, such a vivid story that drew me in. Brit Bennett's writing is completely compelling. I listened to it at 1.5x speed which I haven't done before, but I found the narration a little slow.

4 people found this helpful

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Not engaging

I couldn’t engage with the story and gave up after 2 or 3 hours of listening

1 person found this helpful

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A captivating story

I enjoyed this book. Just finished it. I wanted to leave a good review and here it is.

1 person found this helpful

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My favourite book of 2020

What a beautiful book. The story fascinating, the characters so vivid and the writing amazing. Please read it everyone.

1 person found this helpful

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Slow to start but very engaging once you get in

Has a hard time with the book initially but once more characters and lives are developed I finished in no time and felt it was really worth it! Lovely story, interesting characters and concepts

1 person found this helpful

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Enjoyed it!

Could do with some editing especially at the end otherwise very good. Enjoyed it very much.

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An interesting story well performed

I liked the book, it was different from what I usually listen to. Easy to listen to, nice voices giving the performance.
I found the ending a little abrupt though.

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Very well narrated.

Loved it as it is intriguing.As a twin I could relate to the emotions. I found the story line v.interesting with twists & turns that kept me in suspense.

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Explores many social issues

I loved the 2nd half. The first half was a little slow going, however it did set up the character development required for all the intricate relationships.

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Did I miss something?

I thought the story was very unique and interesting. I had to listen to it at 1.4 speed because the narrator, even though she was good, was just so slow. The story developed slightly slow, but I was enjoying getting to know the characters. However, when it ended I had so many questions left. I felt like the story wasn’t finished. I also think that the characters of the twins were not as developed as I’d hoped, the focus was more on their daughters. I’m just a bit confused now that it’s over and can’t help but wonder, did I miss something?

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  • parve
  • 16-03-2021

Poignant

The statement that stood out for me..to be white is to be able to choose. Spoke to so many issues about privilege and how it differentiates us all. Sometimes we are searching even if we don’t know that we are..a restlessness can carry across generations..so much depth too about how the words around us; spoken and unspoken can impact our life journeys. I grew to love the book..so glad I read it!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 10-08-2021

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. A beautiful book that looks at how we sell our souls in order to achieve what we consider dear. Having reached our goals however, we then look back and see what this has cost us. I would highly recommend this. It is food for reflection.

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  • Winnie Rugutt-Chebon
  • 26-07-2021

An all-around, lovely piece of art

An interesting fictional story of the lives of twins girls who grow up and decide to live two different lives. Some of the themes that come out in the book
Racism and how it felt to be black in the 1930s to 1980s in the US
Transgender lives and realities
The human urge to identify or be identified to a group
The different shades of love and marriage

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  • SarahH
  • 02-06-2021

Absolutely stunning

This book is beautifully written and completely captivating. It tells the story of twin black girls whose skin is very light. When they run away for a new start, one continues life as a black girl while the other is mistaken for a white girl and so the two live lives on separate sides of the colour divide in 60s America. When they themselves have daughters the difference in skin colour and lives widens further until their lives accidentally intersect. It’s about lies and secrets, but also love and new starts. It is stunningly beautiful.

Shayna Hall narrates this book brilliantly. She brings the characters and the times to life. Lovely voice to listen to

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  • Anonymous User
  • 19-01-2021

Loved it

I enjoyed the narrator very much. The story was great. I gasped a few times especially the encounters between the twins' daughters and between Jude and Stella.

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  • verity
  • 30-10-2020

a good tale, well read

a different story, creative and vast. a deeper message about life and progression embedded in tale that's interesting even on its own. narrator's voice felt a little grating at first but soon enough became easy to listen to.

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  • Chantal V
  • 05-07-2020

Excellent Read

Captivating story and eloquently read by voice artist. Imagery easily painted in the reader’s mind

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  • Janice
  • 14-06-2020

A superbly written and narrated novel.

The Vanishing Half is one of the most thought provoking novels I’ve listened to in a very long time. At this point in history I think it’s a must read/listen. It is a beautifully written story that left this reader deeply moved. It is at times heartbreaking, but it also leaves you hopeful given the strength and resilience of its characters. This story will stay with me always.
The narration was superb.
Highly recommended

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  • Steph
  • 23-06-2020

An Important Read

Where to begin with this book? There are so many angles and themes that you could take this from... It has an intriguing opening - a bit like a 'what if' scenario - an unmarked town full of light skinned people who think of themselves as superior to other black people. Then a set of twins, who slip off into the night one summer, leaving no trace. Only for one twin to return as suddenly as she left, followed by a little dark skinned girl...

The multi-generational story really dives into the details of prejudice, systemic racism and most importantly, the often overlooked issue of colorism. It also looks at families, contains complex mother-daughter relationships and in a very understated way also looks at the effect of broken homes and the importance of the father.

The story is fictional but is plotted against important historic events in American history. This framing means that it is realistic, but with a slight displacement that stops it feeling as raw or uncomfortable as some may otherwise have found it. This is with the exception of one violent scene that really saddened me but even this (like most of the harsher scenes in the book) was softened around the edges by being recalled as a memory . It also makes unfamiliar topics completely accessible to anyone through quality story telling (there are two in particular that I have in mind, one is colorism but I don't want to spoil the second for anyone else).

Pacing wise, I found it occasionally a bit slow for my liking, especially towards the end, but there was great tension. If you are the type who likes explosive scenes then you will not find much joy here. The storyline doesn't really carry a shock factor in terms of twists and turns but it certainly takes you by the hand and really makes you think and reflect and savour the range of emotion it induces - it uses your own understandings about family to penetrate your depths.

This is a book that demands attention - I listened to this on Audible and there are several time jumps that are woven together masterfully - you cannot skim read or listen while half concentrated on something else. If your mind wanders for a second, you will find yourself lost. It is worth every drop of your attention though. The reader did a great job too. I usually have to have the ebook in front of me whilst I read or I lose focus but I found myself engaged even though I didn't get the ebook this time.

The ending was satisfying and unhurried too. It was realistic - not so neat and perfect that it felt silly but it still felt complete. I would highly recommend this book, whichever format you choose to read it in.

36 people found this helpful

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  • emily uk
  • 31-08-2020

Great booked ruined by narrator

This is SUCH a good story, but the narration kills it I'm afraid.
I'm going to buy a physical copy to read and cleanse my brain of the irritation, because every time I think of the story or hear the author's name or the book title, I feel tense. The whole way through listening I felt tense. Couldn't fully relax end enjoy it.
This is an important book, as well as being a terrific story. It deserves much better.

19 people found this helpful

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  • Sigrin
  • 24-09-2020

Powerful story written with a tenderness.

I Chose this books on the reviews and it certainly lived up to it high star rating. The summary tells everything you need to know about the book, so I will not bore you with a repetition.

The story needs your complete attention as there is so many small details that are important and make the whole a sum if it’s parts. The exploration of black and white, mother daughter relationship, living in isolation, rich and poor, growing up in a fatherless house are beautiful and sensitively told but also in a no holds bare way too.

My only criticism of this book is the narrator. Personally I have never been a fan of American narrators and unfortunately Shyna Small just did not deliver this book in a way that I really could connect with it. It was almost that she was trying too hard. Personally I would suggest the exceptional voice of Bahni Turpin to narrate.

Despite the criticism as it’s a personal thing, I would highly recommend this book.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Sarah Rayner, author
  • 04-08-2020

Beautifully written and brilliantly read

This is a stunning novel. The blurb details the premise but narrative is more sweeping and ambitious than it suggests: the author - and narrator - deftly switch characters and across timelines to explore big subjects (race, what makes us who we are, family ties and lost connections and gender). It’s especially prescient in the wake of BLM (but given the speed of the publishing industry must have been written long before the current movement to be out now). One of my favourite books on audio so far. Do listen - it’s a real ‘grower’ and I resoundingly recommend it.

6 people found this helpful

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  • KK
  • 02-08-2020

Had potential but never achieved it

enjoyed the premise of this story very much and it held alot of promise, but unfortunately it did not deliver for me. the start was great, alot of background information and developing of the story, but then midway through for me it lost it's way and never came back. I found the jumping around in years to different characters storyline confusing and hard to follow and I think this spoiled the usual enjoyment of the build up to the end. when the end came it was too quick and left a lot of loose ends. I felt quite let down, it didn't really tie anything up and I think the rushed ending meant that some of the story felt unbelievable. It was a shame as I think the story had a lot of potential.

6 people found this helpful

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  • V. O'Regan
  • 12-06-2020

A powerful story

This was an excellent novel that explored some sensitive issues in an open way. All round excellent

3 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 18-08-2021

Not one for me.

Struggled to finish this book. While the themes were familiar and narration was very good, despite not being able to tell the difference between characters at times, the pacing and the back and forth between sides of each story was just too much to keep my interest.

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • amy singleton
  • 17-08-2021

very slow read but good overall story

I enjoyed the overall story but I did think the author dragged out the story at times. you could cut out a lot of the book and it would be the same story and be as good.

1 person found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Adam Plant
  • 10-07-2021

unable to follow the story

maybe better as a book.
but the audio book format for this book just doesn't work.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Steph Baines
  • 04-06-2021

Good, but not exceptional

A well-written narrative, interesting plot line and well performed. But beyond the interesting initial premise and some well rounded characters there wasn't much to grip me.

1 person found this helpful

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