Monthly Archives: May 2021

The Vanishing Half: A tale of one family split in two

Sometimes friends and book clubs lead you to books you’d never have picked up otherwise. I’m pretty sure Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half is one of those books for me, not because it’s not my style or not what I enjoy, but simply because it wasn’t really on my radar before.

The Vanishing Half is the story of twin sisters and their daughters, spanning several decades as they build lives for themselves and wrestle with the consequences. Desiree and Stella come from a small town in Louisiana in the 1960s and even though everyone is black, the whole town is committed to being as light-skinned as possible. The twins run away to New Orleans when they are 16 and eventually are separated when Stella disappears.

Desiree returns to their small town when she takes her dark-skinned daughter and runs from her abusive husband. Throughout the years, she’s never forgotten Stella but all hope seems lost until Desiree’s daughter, Jude, moves to California to go to school. Jude is catering at a fancy white party when she catches a glimpse of a woman who looks exactly like her mother, only white. Knowing the mystery that has always been Stella, Jude can’t let it pass without uncovering the truth of who the woman is.

Bennett packs a lot into this book. Racial tension and violence, wrestling with self-image and the sacrifices made to build a life, the transgender experience of the late 1970s. And despite each character being put through the wringer, they are all confident and stand behind who they are and what they’ve chosen. Though victimized, they are not the victims of the story, which I really appreciated.

Bennett provides glimpses into the minds and experiences of people that I will never be, but she does so in a way that helps me start to understand what it could be like without judgment. Though Stella’s passing isn’t condoned, it’s also not thoroughly condemned by the author and characters, either. Stella remakes herself into someone completely different and the trouble arises primarily because of all the lies she’s told and maintained in an effort to erase her past completely. Desiree was always the adventurous twin, but she’s the one who ended up fleeing her husband and returning to the small town she always hated. But she’s not shamed for returning without conquering the world (though the darkness of her daughter’s skin is a completely different story with the townsfolk).

I liked how Bennett stretched the story across two generations, showing how the choices of one affects the lives of the next. While not always successful, I think they storytelling technique worked really well for this story and for Bennett’s characters. Each character had their own story and all the threads were woven together to show a picture of the family.

Be advised, though, this story isn’t a neat and tidy, happily-ever-after ending. I suspect that many readers would find the ending quite challenging, but I find the openness very realistic. Often when people have made so many choices, they aren’t going to give up the life to try to reclaim what they’ve already given up. It’s up to each person to choose to move forward with the life they’ve been given, regardless of how even family chooses to go.

Bridge of Souls: A fun way to get that paranormal fantasy fix

The third installment of V.E. Schwab’s Cassidy Blake series was recently released, and I wasted no time requesting a copy from my local library. Despite being children’s fiction, I have loved the series. Children’s books can be a great change of pace in reading, plus a lot of them are tremendously well written.

Bridge of Souls finds Cass and her family in New Orleans, once again filming for her parents’ paranormal show. When they left Paris, Cass saw a frightening figure and she hoped she left it behind. But they haven’t been in New Orleans long when she realizes that whatever it is, it’s still following her. Teaming up with steadfast Jacob and knowledgeable Lara, Cass finds out what it is that’s following her and comes up with a risky plan to defeat it. But the price of her safety could be losing one of her friends, and that thought is more than she can bear.

I read this book in one day. In Schwab’s style, she grabs the reader and launches us in headfirst. The action starts on page one and continues along at a fast pace until the very end. Each of Schwab’s three main characters are different in personality, and she does an excellent job of writing each one as an individual.

This is exactly the kind of book I would have recommended to kids looking for scary books. Sometimes creepy and dark, it’s probably something that would have freaked me out as a kid. But as an adult, I love it. It’s just the right amount of paranormal mixed in with plenty of fantasy. And the varied locations stir up an appreciation for history, as well as the desire to get out and see it for myself.

While the series as a whole might deter some readers (or parents) who don’t want to fill their kids’ heads with thoughts of ghosts and emissaries of death, I think Schwab did a great job of taking paranormal subject matter and toning it down for kids, creating an exciting series that’s sure to entertain them. She doesn’t touch much on rituals and she avoids the demonic side of the occult. The series is just fun, the experiences of a young girl who almost died and now can step into the in-between and see the ghosts that are lingering.

I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Breaking the cycles of shame and living in compassion

So far I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Brene Brown. Her research on and insights into shame and vulnerability are incredibly real and practical, helping readers to understand themselves and others better.

I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) recounts some of Brown’s research and interviews with women about their shame stories and how to build shame resilience. Shame is a human experience, brought on by feeling like we are not enough because we aren’t what others expect or want us to be. As individuals come to understand what specific scenarios (or even people) trigger shame responses, they can begin to build networks of supporters who can speak truth and help them break out of the cycle of shame that sucks them in.

Triggers are different for everyone, and supporters for one shame trigger may actually be the cause of other shame triggers. It doesn’t mean we cut them out entirely, but it means we have to be wise in choosing who to share pieces of our hearts with.

While much of Brown’s message is stuff that we know intuitively, having it laid out and backed up with interviews from real women helps drive the point home and helps readers start to apply it to their own lives. As I read, I couldn’t not be thinking on my own shame triggers and what I do to combat the feeling.

But the book doesn’t just give me insight into my own processes, it also challenges me to think about how I respond when someone trusts me enough to share their heart. Responding with the same kind of compassion and understanding that I would long for is key to being a good support for those that I care about.

I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) is a thought-provoking and enlightening book. As with all that I’ve read and heard from Brown, it’s left me really considering things and with practical ways to move forward to a better place. It’s not easy work, but Brown shows us real-life examples, including sharing some of her own stories, to remind readers that it is possible to overcome the debilitating feelings of shame and live a life that is full.

Tunnel of Bones: A playful paranormal story set in Paris

V.E. Schwab’s second book in the Cassidy Blake series explores a new city and a new supernatural challenge.

Still traveling with her parents as they film their TV show, Cassidy finds herself in Paris. And while the veil presses and pulls at her, so far she’s able to maintain control. But it doesn’t take long for Cass to start feeling chills and experiencing inexplicable accidents. Drawing on Lara’s knowledge–and ghostly mentor–Cass finds out she’s somehow woken a poltergeist. And if she isn’t able to help him remember who he was and send him on, he will progress from mischief to menace to mayhem, and all of Paris could pay the price.

In her classic style, Schwab writers her villains in a way that forces readers to relate and sympathize with them, at least a little. Though Cass has to engage in the fight to protect herself, it becomes compassion that motivates her to put the past to rest. Writing in first person allows Schwab to get inside Cass’s mind and let readers really get to know the character, which I like.

Since it’s written for kids, this series is a little more creepy than scary, which means it perfect for readers like me who aren’t really into full horror but still like to feel chilled every now and then. Overall, it’s a fun series for all ages.