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The Vanishing Half: Summary and Ending Explained

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the vanishing half discussion guide

Note: the following discussion guide contains spoilers, as well as references to critical plot points and the conclusion of The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.

The Vanishing Half is Brit Bennett’s second novel, published in June 2020.The novel instantly became a New York Times bestseller and earned recognition as a Good Morning America Book Club Pick.

The storyline unfolds across diverse locations and timeframes, commencing in Mallard, Louisiana, in 1968, and traversing New Orleans, New York, Southern California, and a return to Mallard between 1978 and the early 1980s. The narrative adopts a limited third-person viewpoint, switching among characters and creating a non-linear trajectory driven by their perceptions and recollections.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Central to the plot are identical twins Desiree and Stella Vignes, who depart Mallard at 16 to carve out their destinies. A decade later, their paths diverge significantly: Desiree escapes an abusive marriage, returning to Mallard with her daughter, while Stella, passing as White, is married with a daughter and resides in California.

Desiree’s quest to locate her missing twin, later taken up by her daughter, constitutes a substantial part of the narrative. The novel probes into identity construction, the influence of self-loathing in shaping alternative personas, and the societal hurdles confronting those deviating from the norm.

In this guide we will go through the complete summary and ending explanation for The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. Enjoy! ✨

Summary | Ending Explained

The Vanishing Half Summary

The story starts in April 1968 when Desiree Vignes comes back to Mallard after being away for fourteen years. She brings along her daughter, Jude, who has dark skin.

The first part of the story talks about why Desiree and her twin sister Stella left Mallard in 1954, their time apart in New Orleans, and why Desiree left her abusive husband, Sam Winston, in D.C. to return to Mallard. Back in Mallard, Desiree works at Lou’s Egg House and reconnects with a past lover named Early Jones. Early, who was hired by Desiree’s husband to find her, tells her the truth, and they start a relationship.

The second part takes place ten years later, focusing on Desiree’s daughter, Jude, in Los Angeles. Jude attends UCLA on a track scholarship and meets a photographer named Reese at a Halloween party. They become roommates, and despite some challenges in expressing their feelings, they eventually confess their love for each other.

Jude also helps Reese financially for his breast removal surgery by taking on a second job as a caterer. During a catering job in Beverly Hills, Jude sees someone who looks like her mother’s twin sister, Stella.

Part Three goes back to 1968, this time from Stella’s perspective, now Stella Sanders. Stella started passing as white in New Orleans, married Blake Sanders, and spoke against Black people moving into their neighborhood. Despite her objections, a Black family, the Walkers, moves in, and Stella avoids them until she sees her daughter playing with their daughter, Cindy. Stella rushes out and takes her daughter Kennedy away from the street.

That evening, Loretta returns the doll Kennedy left behind when Stella took her away. Feeling guilty, Stella bakes Loretta a lemon cake and apologizes. They become friends, but Stella hides the friendship from her husband Blake and the neighbors.

Despite their closeness, Stella doesn’t invite Loretta’s family to the neighborhood Christmas party. After Christmas, Kennedy uses a racial slur while playing with Cindy, leading Loretta to ask Stella to stay away. The Walkers face harassment and eventually decide to move, ending Stella’s friendship with Loretta.

In Part Four, set in the fall of 1982, Jude works at a Korean restaurant while waiting for medical school acceptance. She remains fixated on the woman who resembled Stella since the Beverly Hills party. Barry invites Jude and Reese to a play called The Midnight Marauders, where Jude recognizes the lead, Kennedy, as the girl from the party. Jude doesn’t reveal their relation, instead getting a job at the theater to be close to Kennedy, hoping Stella will appear.

Stella, now a statistics instructor, is upset that Kennedy took a break from university for acting. At The Midnight Marauders, Jude confronts Stella, sharing details about Stella and Desiree’s lives. When Jude suggests calling Desiree, Stella runs away.

At the cast party, Kennedy, upset about Stella’s absence, drinks and vents to Jude. Jude retaliates by revealing the truth about Stella’s past. Stella denies it as a prank, and Kennedy’s parents tell her to forget about it. They rent an apartment for Kennedy, avoiding questions about Stella’s past.

Part Five jumps to 1988, with Kennedy landing a role on Pacific Cove. In a flashback, young Kennedy questions Stella about her past. Stella, avoiding the truth, says she’s from Opelousas. During The Midnight Marauders cast party, Jude mentions Mallard, confirming Kennedy’s suspicions about her mother’s past town.

The story jumps to 1985 in New York, where Kennedy lives with her Haitian boyfriend Frantz. After landing a role in an off-off-Broadway musical, Kennedy obsesses over her health and conserves her voice. Jude surprises her at a café, handing her contact information.

They plan to meet after Kennedy’s performance. The next day, Kennedy learns about Mallard, where she might fit in due to her light skin. Realizing her relationship with Frantz is over, Kennedy travels briefly to California, confronts Stella with a childhood photo, but gets little information.

Kennedy spends time in Europe, reinventing herself. In 1996, she becomes a successful real estate agent after her acting career declines. Stella returns to Mallard in 1986 to ask Desiree to stop Jude from contacting Kennedy.

On her journey, she discovers Mallard is now part of Palmetto. Life has changed for Desiree, Early, and Adele. In the present, Stella reconciles with Desiree after admitting her lies to Kennedy. Desiree holds a sobbing Stella, who gives Early her wedding ring to help with expenses.

A month later, Stella hears from Kennedy, picks her up at the airport, and admits giving the ring to Desiree. On the ride home, Stella encourages Kennedy to ask anything.

In the final chapter, Desiree informs Jude of Adele’s passing. Jude calls Kennedy, who declines to inform Stella. Reese and Jude fly to Mallard for the funeral. After the burial, instead of attending the repast, Jude and Reese find solace in a river, hoping it will wash away their past.

The Vanishing Half Ending Explained

So, what happens at the end of The Vanishing Half?

In the final parts of the novel, Jude becomes a pivotal force in bringing together the different threads of the Vignes family. The narrative revolves around the theme of secrets, both those concealed and those laid bare. Kennedy, struggling as a stage actress, receives a photograph from Jude depicting the twins as children.

Recognizing her mother in the picture, Kennedy confronts Stella months later, attempting to break through her wall of secrets. Stella, living under a false identity, denies being in the photo, but Kennedy remains unconvinced. This prompts Stella to visit Mallard, urging Desiree to keep Jude away from Kennedy, as Stella’s White persona cannot withstand her daughter knowing she is a liar.

The relationship between Kennedy and Stella transforms, grounded in shared secrets. Stella unveils her life story, while Kennedy pledges to protect her mother’s secret from Blake. She also convinces Jude to shield Stella from the news of Adele’s death.

As the novel concludes, Stella’s identity remains elusive, echoing the overarching theme of identity explored throughout. The text leaves the question open-ended—whether we are defined by others’ perceptions or if we continually reconstruct ourselves.

In a conversation about revealing Adele’s death to Stella, Kennedy and Jude encapsulate the enigma of Stella’s identity: “‘Maybe she’d want to know this,’ Jude said. ‘Trust me, she doesn’t,’ Kennedy said. ‘You don’t know her like I do.’ […] ‘I don’t know her at all,’ Jude said” (333).

The novel leaves the nature of Stella’s identity unresolved, inviting reflection on the complexity and fluidity of identity throughout a lifetime.

How did you like the ending of the novel? Happy reading! ❤️