The Vanishing Half | Mechanics' Institute

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The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett was a favorite for many readers in 2020. A New York Times Bestseller and National Book Award finalist, Bennett's ambitious novel traces the story of identical twin sisters Desiree and Stella Vignes in the Jim Crow era South. Both girls have big dreams that don't include working as maids for white families. As teens, the sisters run away to New Orleans, where Stella soon discovers she can pass as a white person. Once inseparable, the twins' relationship begins to change dramatically. 

Soon after its 2020 release, the TV rights to The Vanishing Half were snapped up by HBO following a bidding war. The book is currently in production as a limited series and its release date has not yet been determined. If you are a fan of multi-faceted family stories that span several generations, have well-developed characters and explore compelling themes, you may enjoy other similar titles from MI Library's collection. 

The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate - First-year teacher Bernadette Silva accepts a job in a rural Mississippi town in the hopes of canceling out her hefty student loan debt. While struggling to inspire a love of history in her students, Bernadette stumbles upon an account of three women who lived a century ago. She uncovers clues to the women's post-Civil War lives and discovers a strong connection to the town and its people. The author of Before We Were Yours (Ballantine Books, 2017) has written a powerful story inspired by historical events, a book that likely will stay with the reader long after it ends. 

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett - A chance encounter reverberates through the lives of four parents and six children. Spanning five decades, Patchett's story follows two families whose lives are changed forever after vows are broken and living arrangements are reshuffled. A novel that examines how lives are built and the common history that families share, this is a story to ponder and discuss. Also available in Large Print and eBook format. 

East of Eden by John Steinbeck - Published in 1952, Steinbeck's Biblical tale based on Cain and Abel, traces the intertwining stories of the Trask and Hamilton families. One of Steinbeck's finest works, East of Eden explores the themes of identity and familial competition. In 1955, the novel was adapted into a film starring James Dean and directed by Elia Kazan with several on-location scenes filmed in Mendocino.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi - Two half-sisters, unknown to each other, are born into two different tribal villages in 18th century Ghana. One sister marries a wealthy British slave owner while the other is imprisoned and sold into slavery. Winner of the 2017 National Book Award, Gyasi's unforgettable novel traces the generations of one family through two continents and 300 years of history. 

A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton - Evelyn is a young Creole woman who is studying to be a nurse in New Orleans at the height of World War II. Her father is a doctor and his wealth and education shield her from the harshest realities of the Jim Crow South. When Evelyn falls for a man with no money and no family, it sets off a far-reaching chain of events for future generations. 

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal - A family inheritance tears two sisters apart. Many years later, the two women have a second chance at repairing their bond. Witty and heartwarming, Stradal's novel is filled with compelling characters, Midwestern values, and perhaps best of all, beer-making secrets. 

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende - During the 1930s Spanish Civil War, two political refugees emigrate to Chile on a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda. Roser, a young pianist who is widowed and pregnant with her first child, reluctantly agrees to marry her late husband's brother because the union will improve their chances of survival as a couple. Allende's story of their evolving relationship captures the immigrant experience in a unique way as the couple struggle to embrace a new and unfamiliar culture. Also available as an eAudiobook, eBook, and a book on CD

Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides - A irresistible story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus to Asia Minor and finally, to Prohibition-era Detroit. An insightful novel that explores gender identity among other themes won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. In production now, Middlesex is being adapted as a television series by Paramount Studios. Also available as an eBook and as a book on CD

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton - After the death of her beloved grandmother, Marisol Ferrera travels to Cuba to scatter her ashes. Set against Cuba's perilous political climate, Marisol discovers her family's roots and gains valuable insight into her grandmother's past. 

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez - This 1967 landmark novel by Colombian author Garcia Marquez tells the multi-generational story of the Buendia family, whose patriarch founded the fictitious town of Macondo, a small South American town. A rich, thematic work, Macondo's evolution is mirrored in the Buendia family legacy. 

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee - In the early 1900s Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor but proud Korean family has an unplanned pregnancy that threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved by a young minister who offers to marry and bring her to Japan. A National Book Award Finalist for 2017, this sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland is told with wisdom and truth. Also available in Large Print

Passing by Nella Larsen - First published in 1929, the title of Larsen's novel about two light-skinned African American women who try to pass for white to escape racism refers to the term "passing," when a person classified as one racial group is accepted or "passes" as a member of another. Set in 1920s Harlem, shortly before the start of The Vanishing Half, Larsen's book shows a different moment in history with a similar story on race, class, and community. Passing would be a great pick to read either before or after The Vanishing Half. Passing is also available as an eBook. 

The Sea Gate by Jane Johnson - After her mother's death, Becky begins the sad task of clearing out her empty flat. In the unopened letters piling up on the doormat, Becky finds a letter from her mother's elderly cousin begging for help to save Chynalls, her beloved Cornwall home. But when Becky arrives in Cornwall, she finds much more than a crumbling old house. As she sets to work restoring the old home, she begins to piece together her family's role in World War II. An atmospheric novel told in dual time periods.

Posted on Mar. 22, 2021 by Celeste Steward