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#TuesdayBookBlog THE VANISHING HALF by Brit Bennett (@britrbennett) (@LittleBrownUK) Great story, memorable characters, and a subject that will make readers think #Bookreview

Hi all:

Today I bring you the review of a book that has been causing a bit of a stir.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

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

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

Praise for Brit Bennett:

‘A writer to watch’ Washington Post

‘Bennett allows her characters to follow their worst impulses, and she handles provocative issues with intelligence, empathy and dark humour’ New York Times

‘A beautifully written, sad and lingering book’ Guardian on The Mothers

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B082KH5D4M/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B082KH5D4M/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B082KH5D4M/

Author Brit Bennett

About the author:

Born and raised in Southern California, Brit Bennett graduated from Stanford University and earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award in Graduate Short Fiction as well as the 2014 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. She is a National Book Foundation “5 under 35” honoree, and her essays are featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and Jezebel.

https://www.amazon.com/Brit-Bennett/e/B00PZ44052/

My review:

I thank Little Brown Book, UK for providing me an ARC copy of this novel in the first place, although later I also purchased my own copy which I review here.

This is the first novel by Brit Bennett I read, although I’m aware that her first novel, The Mothers, was very well-received, and this one has been highly praised and regarded as well. And, in my opinion, it deserves it.

The description of the book provides a fairly accurate summary of the main points of the plot, and I won’t try to be too inclusive when I mention the many topics the author touches on: race is paramount (is race only skin-deep?, different types of racism, the changing attitudes over the years, the burden of internalising other people’s values and what that does to the characters’ sense of self…), identity (while one of the characters lives a lie, a trans man abandons his birth biological gender to truly become himself), domestic violence, family, LGTB, rural versus city life, the importance of education, mothers and daughters, Alzheimer’s disease, love… It is a family saga, a story of two twin sisters and their daughters and how their lives split up at some point, sending them into completely different directions.

I’ve mentioned the issue of race, and that is the main focus of the book. The little place, somewhere in Louisiana, where the sisters are born is peculiar already when it comes to race. Although all the inhabitants are African-American, they are all so light that an outsider would not be able to tell they are not white. They are proud of it and consider anybody who is a shade darker than they are their inferior.  But, of course, the local white people know, and that has terrible consequences for the girls, who lose their father due to a lynching (for an imagined crime the man had not committed). It’s not surprising that they leave the place as soon as they can, but once in New Orleans things are quite difficult, and one of the sisters, Stella, ends up passing for white to get a job. That changes everything, and the sisters’ lives end up going in totally different directions. Although from the reviews I read I realised that many readers might be unfamiliar with the concept of ‘passing’, it has appeared in novels and even movies over the years. I recommend Nella Larssen, a female author from the Harlem Renaissance, whose novels Passing and Quicksand are fascinating and deserve to be better known, but both movie versions of Imitation of Life, although in a far more melodramatic fashion, deal with the topic as well, and in the musical Showboat we have similar concerns (and talk of miscegenation and the ‘one drop of blood’ dictum), and concepts that might appear bizarre now (like quadroon, octoroon, [Alexandre Dumas Jr was an octoroon if we apply that classification, and Alexandre Dumas father a quadroon], or high yellow) but made a big difference in the past, when it came to the treatment somebody received. Some of the readers don’t feel the book goes into these issues deeply enough, but this is a novel, and realistically, it would be impossible to discuss all the aspects of it and create a fictional story readers cared for as well.

The main characters of the novel are the two sisters, Stella and Desiree, and their two daughters, Kennedy and Jude. While the two sisters are identical twins, Kennedy and Jude could not look and be more different —Kennedy is blonde, has blue eyes, has lived a life of privilege, and has always been self-centred. Jude is dark-skinned, suffered prejudice and abuse as a child and grew up without a father, is hard-working and determined, and has always cared for her family and for others— but their lives still converge and collide at times, bringing some momentous changes to their lives. There are many more characters in the story, some more important than others (Early plays an essential role in Desiree’s life, and Reese complements Jude), and there are many people they come across: friends (I particularly liked Barry, who becomes a drag queen on the weekends and is a great agony aunt), neighbours, work colleagues… The first two parts of the novel centre mostly on Desiree and her daughter, while we only get to know more about Stella and Kennedy later in the book. While the central characters are well-drawn, that is not the case for some of the others, and they are not all sympathetic, not even the protagonists, but I felt the author manages to make their actions and their emotions understandable, even if we don’t like them that much. I wasn’t totally sure about the way Reese’s experiences are dealt with in the book. We hear about his difficulties and his process as a trans man, but this at times feels like an afterthought, and some readers have questioned how his story might appear to be linked to the concept of ‘passing’, although I don’t think that was the author’s intention (he sheds his previous identity and is happy to leave it behind, with no regrets, no matter how hard the practicalities are, while Stella struggles and feels she is living a lie).

The story is narrated in the third person, mostly from the point of view of the four female protagonists, although we are also given a brief insight into some of the other characters that come into the sisters’ lives, and we hear a bit more about Early and Reese’s thoughts and experiences. The way the story is told might be problematic for many readers, as the point of view often changes within a chapter, and although the changes are not excessively difficult to follow, keeping the story straight does require a degree of attention, especially because the chronology is not linear either. We go forwards and backwards in time, from the 1950s to the 1990s, although the story moves forward overall.

The writing is lyrical and precious at times, harsh at others, and the rhythm flows and ebbs, being quite contemplative in parts (as it befits a book about memory and identity). This is not a page-turner, but I felt the pace suited the novel perfectly. I had to share a few highlights with you, although I recommend that people interested in the book check a sample to make first, to ensure it works for them.

In New Orleans, Stella split in two. She didn’t notice it at first because she’d been two people her whole life: she was herself and she was Desiree. The twins, beautiful and rare, were never called the girls, only the twins, as if it were a formal title. She’d always thought of herself as part of this pair, but in New Orleans, she splintered into a new woman altogether after she got fired from Dixie Laundry.

The hardest part about becoming someone else was deciding to. The rest was only logistics.

Sometimes you could understand why Stella passed over. Who didn’t dream of leaving herself behind and starting over as someone new? But how could she kill the people who’d loved her? How could she leave the people who still longed for her, years later, and never even look back?

The ending is perhaps a bit rushed, considering the length and depth of the novel, but it suits it and I enjoyed it. If you want to know if it’s a happy ending… Well, this is not that kind of book, but I’ll say it isn’t unhappy.

I recommend this book to people who enjoy literary fiction and novels that deal with complex and diverse topics, with a focus on female protagonists and their lives, who don’t mind a somewhat demanding and challenging writing style, and who are eager to discover talented female writers. Great story, memorable characters, and a subject that will make readers think. What else could anybody want?

Thanks to the publisher and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, remember to like, share, comment, click, and keep reading, and reviewing. And, always, keep smiling and stay safe!

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Book reviews Rosie's Book Team Review

#RBRT #BookReview Shattered Lies by S.J. Francis (@sjfrancis419) Two families and many lies #TuesdayBookBlog

Hi all:

I hope you’ll forgive the appearance of the blog. At the moment I’m doing a Branding course, and I’m planning on changing quite a few things, but I’m trying to go slowly.

As promised I’ll start sharing the prequel to my Escaping Psychiatry series from next week, but today I wanted to take the chance and share the review of a novel I’ve read recently as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team. First I share the description and editorial reviews.

Shattered Lies by S.J.Francis
Shattered Lies by S.J.Francis

Shattered Lies by S.J. Francis

She wants to know the truth, but some secrets might be better left alone…
Kate Thayer has a good life as a veterinarian, running the family horse farm–until she uncovers an act of unimaginable treachery by those she trusted most and learns that everything she knew about herself was a lie. Her paternal grandmother, the woman who raised her, is behind a number of devastating secrets Kate is compelled to discover. But the deeper she digs, the more betrayal she finds, changing her life in ways she could have never foreseen.

Editorial Reviews

“Francis writes a poignant and moving tale of bigotry, deceit, and the ultimate betrayal, where the people who you are supposed to be able to trust are the ones who tell the most devastating lies.” ~ Taylor Jones, Reviewer

“… The title implies a mystery novel or an action novel. When I first started to read this novel, I thought this would be a regular old-school mystery. Boy, was I surprised to find that the title implies so much more than the genre. The story is heartfelt and very real. I am very impressed with S.J. Francis. The way the author wrote the novel was super amazing and fascinating. She transported me back in time and made me feel the pain and confusion of a grandmother who thought she was doing the right thing…” -Rabia Tanveer for Reader’s Favorite

“Shattered Lies is the story of the cruel, inhuman things man does to man and the tangled webs we weave trying to cover up our heinous behavior. It’s a heart-warming and heart-breaking tale of a young woman who discovers that everything she believed about herself, her parents, her very life, is nothing but a lie.” ~ Regan Murphy, Reviewer

“SJ Francis examines the destruction of one family’s foundation under the weight of lies in her thoughtful and wonderful book, Shattered Lies… Shattered Lies explores the painful legacy of bigotry and how such a legacy can destroy many lives.  In doing so, SJ Francis writes with raw honesty using language that has become embedded in the culture of racism.  It will be uncomfortable and unpleasant for the reader at times. But I do applaud Francis’ efforts. She has crafted a memorable book that will leave a lasting impression. A very thought provoking book.” ~Tracy, The Writing Piazza

From the Author

FYI:

NOTE: 10% of this book’s sales from both editions will be donated to the Polycystic Kidney Foundation to help fight this insidious disease that strikes both adults and children. For more info about this disease see: pkdcure.org/

Here, my review (4 stars):

Shattered Lies by S. J. Francis. Family lies, race, and life in the South

I’m reviewing this book as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team and was offered a free ARC copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

The novel, as promised by the description, deals with important themes: family relationships, adultery, betrayal, secrets, lies, race, loss and grief, illness… The story shows us how two families, the Thayers and the Johnsons, who’ve always lived close to each other in the family ranch of the Thayers, a white Southern family, while the Johnsons (African-American) worked for them in a variety of capacities and lived within the grounds, are much more closely linked than they appear at first sight. Kate Thayer, the youngest of the family, finds a diary written by her mother that opens up a Pandora’s Box of secrets and lies, including suicide, child abandonment, and questions about her own identity.

Emotions run high for all the protagonists and also the less important characters, and as the story is narrated in third-person limited point of view it allows the reader to see things from inside the heads (and the hearts) of different characters. This does not make it confusing but instead it gives readers an opportunity to better understand some of the characters, which at first are difficult to like or empathise with (like Katherine, Kate’s grandmother).

The novel is full of emotionally tense moments, and many secrets are revealed very early on. That results in much of the story delving into the changing emotions of the characters (from anger, to guilt, to fear, and back again), with the rhythm of the story speeding up and slowing down at times rather than providing a totally smooth ride.

Despite punctual references to current times (several mentions of Obama, the years when different events took place, and comments about how things have changed over generations), the story seemed to live in a time of its own and in its own environment, creating a somewhat claustrophobic sensation. The only interferences by the outside world take place in the train (where there is a nasty experience with some white youth, and a nice encounter, which to Kate exemplifies the fact that people can fight against prejudice at a personal level, no matter what pressures they are subjected to by their environment), and later in the hospital, although even that serves mostly as a background for the family’s battles and eventual peace. This is mostly a personal story, although it reflects wider themes.

The North and the South are depicted as fairly different worlds, nowadays still, and the codes of behaviour and the topics brought to my mind Faulkner’s novels (although the style and the treatment of the material is completely different). It seemed difficult to believe that in the late 1980s nobody would have spotted that Olivia, Kate’s mother, was pregnant with twins (even if she didn’t want an ultrasound), and that the doctor wouldn’t  think of calling for help when he realised the delivery was not going well (especially as this is a family of means). But perhaps the details are not as important as the experiences in this melodrama that ultimately provides a positive message of hope and forgiveness.

This is an emotionally tense read, with some slower and somewhat iterative self-reflective moments, and some faster ones, exploring issues of identity, prejudice and family that will make you think about your own priorities and preconceived ideas. Ah, and 10% of the royalties go to the Polycystic Kidney Foundation, a very good cause (and relevant to the story).

Links to the author and the book:

Her Black Opal Books Author Page:

http://www.blackopalbooks.com/author-bios/bio-sj-francis

Her ShoutOut:  http://bit.ly/1r3oynM

Her web page: http://www.sjfranciswriter.com

Follow her in:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sjfrancis419

Face Book: https://www.facebook.com/pages/SJ-Francis/480058115420325

More Blogs: sjfranciswriter.blogspot.com 

A Book Review 4 U: abookreview4u.blogspot.com

A Consumer’s View: aconsumersview.blogspot.com

OnefortheAnimals:    onefortheanimals.blogspot.com

Pinterest:   http://www.pinterest.com/sjfrancis419/

Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/u/0/104831238907682620486/about

Good Reads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8423986.S_J_Francis

Thank you all for reading, and you know what to do, like, share, comment, and CLICK! Thanks for your patience!

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