Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live a life completely different from the one you were born into?
In Brit Bennett’s novel, “The Vanishing Half,” she explores the lives of identical twin sisters who take vastly different paths leading to consequences far from their expectations.
Set against the backdrop of the Black experience in America, the book follows Desiree and Stella Vignes, who leave their small Louisiana village at 16 and end up living drastically different lives. One is passing for White, married, with a daughter in California, while the other has fled an abusive marriage and returned home with her own daughter.
As the story unfolds through the shifting perspectives of multiple characters, we are taken on a journey that challenges our very own understanding of race and social norms in society.
Via this discussion guide, we’ll have a look at some book club questions for The Vanishing Half and why it’s a must-read for anyone looking to know more about the complexities of identity, family bonds, and what it means to be a person of color in this American land.
And in case you want to read what the book is about and know my opinion, I have a detailed blog post here – The Vanishing Half Book Review.
The post might contain affiliate links. For more information, read our disclosure. Also, these questions contain spoilers.
Book Club Questions For The Vanishing Half
- The Vanishing Half is not a book that just talks about the problems of our society. It uses a captivating plot and compelling characters to show us how injustices can have a profound and lasting impact on our lives. Additionally, it’s a powerful reminder of the importance of celebrating our differences while recognizing that we all must work together to create a more equitable future. Do you agree? If not, explain why.
- The villagers are proud of their Caucasian features and coloring, and they have created a community that prioritizes and rewards those traits. This community serves as a commentary on colorism, a form of discrimination based on skin color, and its impact on individuals’ self-perception and opportunities in society. In spite of this, Stella decided to pass off as white for a job that she wanted. What’s your take on that act?
- “There were many ways to be alienated from someone, few to actually belong.” – Based on this line, what is your take on belonging based on the story? How can the concept of belonging be more inclusive and open-minded in order to accommodate all walks of life?
- How does Desiree and Stella’s understanding of home influence their dynamic with one another? Do they each have different visions of what home should look like -or is there a common thread that binds them together even when miles apart physically?
- Stella’s decision to pass for White has a significant impact on her sense of identity. She is forced to leave behind her birth family and her cultural heritage to assimilate into a predominantly White society. This causes her to live a life based on a fabrication, with the constant fear of being caught red-handed. She is unable to fully embrace her Black identity and her relationship with her family because of the choices she has made. What is your take on this?
- Imagine a scenario where Desiree and Stella had stayed together in Mallard instead of going their separate ways earlier in life. Do you think they would have built a better future together than what why achieved alone later on as adults living completely different lives?
- “The Vignes twins were reminders of this, tiny girls in funeral dresses who grew up without a daddy because white men decided that it would be so.” – How profound is this statement in terms of racial injustice, and what do you think the author wants readers understanding from it?
- Desiree and Stella run away from home together and keep their plans a secret from their families. Desiree later continues to hide from her husband and lies to Jude about leaving Mallard. Early protects Desiree’s secret by lying to Sam about her whereabouts. Jude keeps several secrets, including her sexual activity in Mallard, Reese’s transgender identity, and her continued contact with Kennedy. Even Kennedy conceals Adele’s death from Stella. Do you think these recurring secrets and constant lies are nothing but a way to cope with shame and guilt? Also, discuss the negative consequences of the above acts.
- Stella fantasizes about leading a simpler life as a white person. This may be true because of her finding out that Blake is financially way more stable than her. But Stella isn’t completely fulfilled in her new-found identity. On the other hand, Desiree endured awful torment but manages to find solace with Early and their daughter. Does that make Desiree’s outcome more desirable?
- The relationship between Jude and Kennedy symbolizes the complexities of kinship and identity. Despite looking radically different from each other, they share a bond as cousins and as part of the same family. Their relationship challenges the notion that family is solely based on blood ties and highlights the importance of shared experiences and connections. Do you think this bonding underscores the impact of the decisions made by previous generations on the lives of their descendants?
- Put yourself in either one of the positions – Desiree or Stella during the reunion. If you were Desiree and you were to ask five questions to Stella and vice versa, what questions would you ask them?
- Stella’s career as a college professor is significant because it represents a part of her life that is not built on lies. Teaching is something that she has always wanted to do, and by pursuing this dream, she is able to find fulfillment in her professional life. This career also highlights the importance of education and the opportunities it can provide, regardless of one’s background or race. Do you think this thing stood out the most when it comes to Stella’s character?
- Acting is a recurring motif in The Vanishing Half, with characters taking on different roles and personas to navigate their lives. Desiree dreams of becoming an actress but ultimately settles for a life in a small town. Stella’s entire life is an act, as she passes for White and creates a new identity for herself. Jude also plays a role in her interactions with others, such as pretending to be Kennedy’s friend to learn more about Stella. Do you think, in this cruel world where we don’t get what we want, the art of acting is the only way to keep others happy and sane?
- For me, personally, the novel’s title, “The Vanishing Half,” refers to the idea of passing and the erasure of one’s identity. It reflects Stella’s decision to pass for White and her subsequent disappearance from her birth family’s life. Additionally, it highlights the fragility of identity and the impact of societal expectations and pressures on individuals’ sense of self. Finally, it serves as a reminder that identity is not fixed and can be shaped and molded by external forces. What’s your take on the statements that I just said about the title? Do you have an alternate explanation?
If you liked this set of questions here are a few other options you can consider.
While Justice Sleeps: Dive into this gripping legal thriller by Stacey Abrams, where a young law clerk uncovers a puzzling conspiracy, navigating the corridors of power and risking everything in a high-stakes battle. Get ready for a rollercoaster ride of twists and turns!
Klara and The Sun: Step into a future America where inequality reigns and artificial friends cater to the privileged. Kazuo Ishiguro’s poignant tale, told through Klara the AI, delves into love, hope, and the essence of humanity.
Hamnet: Discover the captivating backstory of Shakespeare’s Hamlet through Maggie O’Farrell’s novel, Hamnet. Explore the heart-wrenching loss of Shakespeare’s son and delve into the intricate dynamics of love, sacrifice, and artistic brilliance. Uncover the hype surrounding this historical fiction masterpiece.
The Silent Patient: In the heart of London, a famous painter’s seemingly perfect life shatters when she brutally shoots her husband, leaving her silent and the nation bewildered. Can a determined psychotherapist unravel the mystery and discover the chilling truth?
The Lincoln Highway: Join Emmett and his brother on a transformative cross-country journey in Amor Towles’ gripping novel, The Lincoln Highway. Filled with redemption, brotherhood, and unexpected twists, this thought-provoking story will be the perfect book club read.