What to read after "The Vanishing Half"

Al Woodworth on August 26, 2020

What to read after 'The Vanishing Half'

The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett’s sophomore novel about two Black sisters finding their way in life, has captivated readers far and wide. Since publication, it has regularly hit #1 on the New York Times best-seller list and has landed on nearly every "Must Read" list—including our Best Books of June.

The novel is a page-turner, and with it we learn about the bonds of sisterhood, the making of personal identity, starting fresh, and what it means to be Black in America. It is beautifully and energetically written—I read it in less than three days. So, if you’re like me and finished the book feeling full, delighted, and wondering, “What could I read next that could possibly compare?” I’m happy to say that the Amazon Books editors are here to help.

Here’s a roundup of novels that we loved and would be great follow-ups to Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half. And make no mistake, these novels are filled with the strong, resilient, and striving women that Brit Bennett articulates so effortlessly in both her novels.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

With her sophomore novel, Brit Bennett has cemented her place among the great writers of this generation and those who came before, including the legendary Toni Morrison. In The Vanishing Half and in Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, both authors explore the construction of race and identity in America. While Stella passes as white in The Vanishing Half  as a way to escape her past and invite opportunity, Pecola, the 11-year-old Black girl in The Bluest Eye, longs for whiteness to fit in. As in all of Morrison’s novels, her facility with language, pacing, and character make for an unforgettable and revelatory read.

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum

One of the essential questions that Brit Bennett investigates in The Vanishing Half is: who are you if not for your past? Can you truly break free from your family? A Woman Is No Man offers the same probing inquiry in a generational story that follows a Palestinian mother and her American-born daughter—who, each in their own way, try to free themselves from their family’s violent, patriarchal past. A Woman Is No Man is brilliantly written, hopeful, and an ode to the power of literature.

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

Secrets. We all have them. Some are just bigger than others. In The Vanishing Half Stella pretends to be white—to her husband, her daughter, and all who surround her. In Conjure Women, a young midwife and the town healer holds on to the secrets told to her by the freed Black slaves—and the secrets are many. This novel, which moves backward and forward in time, tells the story of Rue—or, as Adrian Liang calls her, the “iron-spined young woman who ignites the page”—and the lengths she and other women will go to save themselves and those they love.

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine

If you loved reading about the bonds of sisterhood in The Vanishing Half, then I’d invite you to pick up Cathleen Schine’s hilarious, warmhearted novel, The Grammarians, about two quirky sisters—also twins—who love each other just as much as they love words, grammar, and the dictionary. So much so that as kids they develop their own language, are inseparable, and hilariously harangue their psychologist uncle with their witticisms, intelligence, and twinness. Like Stella and Desiree Vignes in The Vanishing Half, Laurel and Daphne will discover that the forces of adulthood and independence will pull them apart. Will they find their way back to one another?

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Yes, Little Fires Everywhere just became a TV series and so too will The Vanishing Half, but there are other reasons to recommend Celeste Ng's novel. For one, like Bennett’s, it is impossible to put down. It is also a contemporary investigation into race—and racism in America—privilege and family. We named Little Fires Everywhere the best novel of the year in 2017, and in 2020 Little Fires Everywhere is just as incendiary, timely, and page-turning. If you haven’t already read this one, we highly recommend it on the heels of The Vanishing Half.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

In many ways, The Vanishing Half looks at the legacies of events that took place generations before and how new generations grapple with that history. Do they embrace it? Do they run from it? Must we own the stories of our parents, our grandparents, our daughters? Another book that addresses these questions is Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth, where a kiss from a surprise guest at a christening has far-reaching and profound effects on two families. Spanning five decades, Patchett’s novel reveals the bonds that will forever hold families together.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

If you’re going all in for Brit Bennett (as the Amazon Books editors have), then you have to start with her dazzling debut. The Mothers is an absorbing and powerful novel about motherhood, female friendship, and finding love with a broken heart. Bennett will captivate you with her characters, who are hurting, flawed, and trying to navigate the unsteady transition into adulthood. The Mothers ambitiously tackles heavy circumstances, but the hope of these young Black women—and Bennett’s ability to convey the ferocity of what it means have a mother, to be a mother, and to want a mother—make this novel a resoundingly magnetic and essential read.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

And, of course, if you haven't read The Vanishing Half, we couldn't recommend it more emphatically. Bennett's novel examines sisterhood, Black identity, and motherhood with compassion and conviction. The Vignes twins grew up inseparable, but their adult lives look distinctly different—Desiree lives in their childhood home with her Black daughter, and estranged Stella is posing as a white woman. Told in flashbacks and alternating points of view, this novel asks what is personal identity, if not your past? A riveting and sympathetic story about the bonds of sisterhood and just how strong they are, even at their weakest.

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