Family and relationships are a major deciding factor in how a person turns out. Our past influences our desires and the decisions we will make in the future. Brit Bennett discusses how we choose our own fate and how that fate may be different than the ones our families had previously thought we would take.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett tells the story of the Vignes twin sisters. Growing up, the two were inseparable and identical. People in the community found it hard to tell the two apart, but knew that wherever they saw one, the other was not far behind. Living in a small, southern black community with rigid ideals, the Vignes sisters run away at age sixteen to escape the less than perfect notions the community had about who they should be. Struggling to make out a new life for themselves, one twin makes the difficult decision to leave the other behind. Her decision sets the family on a rocky path that none of them could have predicted.
The Vignes sisters’ life decisions at the age of sixteen shape their daily lives for years. As adults, their lives couldn’t be more different. Their families, their racial identities, and their communities know them as separate individuals with vastly different pasts.
Fast forward many years and one of the sisters has come back to her hometown with her daughter. Separated by states, the other sister has been secretly passing as white for many years and her white husband doesn’t know anything about her past. Even though the twins are living vastly different lives, their fates are still intricately connected.
This novel follows the Vignes twin sisters from the 1950s to the 1990s, spanning many areas across the country from the Deep South to California. As the twins grow, many generations of the Vignes family come alive to tell their tales. Both the older generation and the younger generation work to create lives that they can be proud of with the sisters sandwiched in between. When the twins’ daughters grow up, their lives are bound to cross. The delicate life balance full of truth and lies the sisters have created is destined to come crashing down at some point. It’s only a matter of time.
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As African-American History Month draws to a close and Women’s History Month begins, celebrate both by discovering these turn-of-the-twentieth-century African-American women activists on your library’s shelves:
Journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931) first spoke out against the lynching of blacks in the South from the pages of her own Memphis, Tennessee newspaper. This act began her fierce campaign to end the injustice through her lectures and writings. On Lynchings collects three of her influential publications on the subject.
In her 1940 autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World, Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) describes her career as a speaker dedicated to advancing the causes of civil rights and women’s suffrage.
Historian Mary Frances Berry rescues Callie House (1861–1928) from obscurity in My Face is Black is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations. Founder of the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association, House began a grass-roots movement calling for Congress to compensate former slaves for the labor they performed during centuries of captivity.
Explore the lives of other remarkable African-American women with Biography in Context. This online database conveniently gathers information from reference works, academic publications, newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, websites, and other sources to create”media-rich” profiles of historical figures, writers, artists, celebrities, and other prominent individuals.
The neverending debate of “which is better, the book or the movie?” continues with the recent release of the movie The Help. Based on Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel, the movie has a lot to live up to.
Published in 2009, The Help received excellent reviews but started off fairly quietly. It soon became a sleeper hit – it’s been on the New York Times bestseller list for over 100 weeks and is easily the most requested title at the library these days.
The novel is told from the the point-of-view of three narrators relating the story of African-American maids working for white families in the Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. The characters are real and complex, their stories are heartbreaking and funny, and the dangers they face are life threatening. I read the book before it really took off and blogged about it here. It’s still one of my favorite books.
The movie opened just last week and stars Viola Davis, Emma Stone and Octavia Spencer. There has been a fair amount of controversy about the making of this movie – Stockett’s longtime best friend Tate Taylor adapted and directed the film, even though he has directed only a couple of small films previously; there was talk that he wouldn’t be able to handle a big, important movie. Never fear, the movie is beautifully done with several Oscar-worthy performances, and settings that transport you to the Deep South of the 1960s. Just like the book, you’ll laugh and cry and be inspired by these courageous women. (Although the movie is several months from coming out on DVD, you can be assured that the Davenport Library will purchase multiple copies when it’s available!)
My recommendation? Read the book AND see the movie.