Posted in General Fiction, Literary Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Publication Info: Published June 2, 2020 by Penguin Audio. I listened to this book through my local library. Other editions available.

Summary: Twins Stella and Desiree were born and raised in a small black community called Mallard, Louisiana. After their father was killed when they were young children, their mother did what she could to keep a roof over their heads. But when the girls were told they had to leave school at sixteen to help their mother clean and take in laundry, they ran away from home.

The people in their hometown of Mallard pride themselves on their light skin. The lighter a person is, the more you are held in esteem. Stella and Desiree are both so light, they could pass for white. That is what Stella decides to to do. Stella walks away from her twin, her family and her past in order to be a white woman and live a white woman’s life. Desiree has a relationship with a dark-skinned man and comes out of it with a very dark skinned daughter, Jude. When she returns to Mallard, this sets her and her daughter apart from the rest of the town.

After Jude leaves home, she briefly sees a woman who looks just like her mother. This sets her on a search that will stir up the past and unsettle several lives.

Comments: The Vanishing Half deftly and stunningly handles the subjects of race, skin color and identity. I was completely drawn into the novel, listening into the wee hours of the morning for several nights. The narration by Shayna Small greatly added to the experience. She did a wonderful job with the voices.

Before reading this book, I realized that there is discrimination among colored peoples for skin tone, not only with Blacks, but other races and cultures, too. But as a white woman, this has always been a vague concept. The Vanishing Half taught me some valuable lessons about skin color and identity. I’d love to see this book on required school reading lists. The Vanishing Half is an astounding work of literature for the twenty-first century.

My Rating: 5+ Stars, A+

Posted in General Fiction

A Good Neighborhood by Theresa Anne Fowler

Publication Info: Expected publication date March 10, 2020 by St. Martin’s Press. Kindle edition courtesy of NetGalley. Other editions will be available at publication.

Summary: In present day North Carolina, an older suburb is getting a makeover. Smaller, less desirable homes are razed along with mature trees to make way for multi-bath homes with sparkling swimming pools. One resident of the older homes in the neighborhood, Professor Valerie Alston-Holt watches the destruction with fear for the ancient oak tree in her own yard. The venerable oak’s root system extended far beyond the boundaries of her property. The tree also held emotional significance for Valerie. She decides to take an action to save her tree that eventually has heart wrenching consequences.

Across her back fence, the recently completed extravagant home belongs to one Brad Whitman, owner of Whitman HVAC. Whitman is a larger than life successful businessman whose TV ads exude charisma. His wife and two daughters live in his generous shadow. The oldest, Juniper, was encouraged to take a purity pledge at puberty by Whitman, her stepfather. Now almost eighteen years old, she faces a challenge to that vow.

The challenge comes in the form of the young man who lives behind her house. His name is Xavier Alston-Holt. Xavier is a very studious young man who is working hard toward his chosen career in classical guitar. He also has sworn off relationships, but that is his own choice–he knows he must work hard to reach his goals.

The two young people are both focused on their goals and seem ideal for each other except for one tiny problem — Juniper is white and Xavier is black. Biracial, actually, as his mother is black and his deceased father was white. But in present day North Carolina, this might as well be a gap as wide as the Grand Canyon. When Brad Whitman gets wind of Xavier’s attraction to Juniper, his own lewd thoughts go into overdrive and he takes drastic action to “save” his daughter and get revenge on his neighbor with the stupid oak tree.

Comments: I hope this book shoots to the top of the best seller lists and gets in the hands of many book clubs for some deep discussion. A Good Neighborhood pokes a very timely sharp stick into bigotry and white male privilege. It shines a light on the appalling black male experience in current day America. The ending made me want to cry even as I knew it’s inevitability.

Although written by a white author, A Good Neighborhood shows a deep sensitivity for her black characters. Theresa Anne Fowler obviously did extensive research and reached out for guidance.

This book made me consider the current kerfuffle about American Dirt (which I admit I haven’t yet read) and the pitfalls of identity politics. The axiom “write what you know” is taken to extremes these days, enforcing racial barriers. Literature isn’t always safe, for the writer or the reader. Taking risks — writing or reading about other races and cultures — can mean crossing bridges, acknowleging differences and possibly changing your own views, which is dangerous business in our deeply polarized political climate.

Very Highly Recommended for readers of General Fiction and Literary Fiction.

My Rating: 5 STARS