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Britt Bennett’s The Vanishing Half is one of the most striking commentaries on race and class in recent years. Following two sisters who are from a southern Black community, the two go on to live entirely different lives: one as a white woman, while the other becomes the mother of a dark-skinned daughter.
In honor of our love fro this book, here is a list of books that tackle the complexities of race, privilege and complex relationships, with a special focus on the stories by and about Black women.
The Mothers By Brit Bennett
Mourning her mother’s suicide, seventeen-year old beauty Nadia Turner begins a relationship with Luke Shepard, a former football star whose career was impacted by a serious injury. Their love results in an unexpected pregnancy, which ensues in a frantic cover-up that reverberates through the rest of their lives. Now in their adulthood, Nadia, Luke and Nadia’s best friend struggle to navigate the impact of the choices they made in their youth, contemplating what would have happened if they had all chosen differently.
The Revisioners By Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
In 1924, former slave Josephine establishes an uneasy friendship with Charlotte, a white woman involved with the Ku Klux Klan. Decades later, Josephine’s descendant Ava has to move in with her white grandmother Martha, a woman with an abundance of wealth but otherwise, rather lonely. But as Martha’s behavior grows more erratic and dangerous, Ava must escape the house before her own story mirrors her predecessor’s.
Mrs. Everything By Jennifer Weiner
Two sisters—Jo, a tomboyish rebel, and Bethie, the family’s “good girl”—know their roles in the family in 1950’s Detroit. But as their lives progress alongside Vietnam and Woodstock, their paths change: Bethie becomes an active participant of the 70’s counterculture, while Jo becomes a young housewife and mother in Connecticut. And still, neither sister feels good about their roles in the world. Gripping and thoughtful, Mrs. Everything offers a perspective on the question we all ask: how should a woman be in the world?
The House Of Deep Water By Jeni McFarland
For three women, the last place they wanted to return was their calm town of River Bend, Michigan. Between Linda Williams (who doesn’t know what she wants), her mother Paula (who is a little too sure of what she wants), and Beth DeWitt (one of the town’s only Black residents, who never wanted to raise her children there), the three women unexpectedly convene at Beth’s father’s home. Upon the women’s arrival, secrets begin to unearth, and a scandal forces Beth to confront the past she worked so hard to leave behind.
Passing by Nella Larsen
Childhood friends Clare and Irene have one major thing in common: while both are part-Black, they are light enough to pass as white. But when they grow up, Clare chooses to live as a white woman and marry a white man, while Irene lives in Harlem and moves through society as Black. After the two reconnect, the women become entranced by the other’s life, spiraling into one of literature’s greatest commentaries on race, class and personal identity in America.
Caucasia by Danzy Senna
Birdie and Cole are half-black, half-white. Birdie is blonde and fair-skinned (and often mistaken for white), whereas Cole bears more of a resemblance to their Black father, giving both girls two wildly different experiences in the world around them. When their parents divorce and separate the sisters, Birdie begins a desperate search for Cole across the country, refusing to lose the most important part of her family.
The Wedding by Dorothy West
In the highest ranks of the “blue-vein society”, the Coles family gather for the wedding of their loveliest daughter, Shelby. They expect her to marry someone among their ranks—but much to the shock of everyone involved, Shelby has chosen to marry a white jazz musician from New York. The Wedding contemplates race, love and the inevitability of change in any community.
Luster by Raven Leilani
Twenty-something Edie is stumbling through her hazy, disjointed life in New York City. She’s dating Eric—a rich, married, white man, and their relationship is rife with strict rules. When Edie is suddenly left without a home, she’s compelled to visit Eric’s wife in the suburbs, kicking off a complicated dynamic between the three of them that might be difficult to resolve.
Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson
A letter to Black love, Open Water follows two young British artists who connect in a crowded London pub. Fueled by their mutual love of their crafts, a tender relationship begins to blossom. Unfortunately, the lovers are tested with trials and tribulations along the way—perhaps in ways neither had ever imagined.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
A neuroscience PhD candidate, Gifty is suddenly caring for her suicidal, religious mother. Still reeling from the death of her older brother, Gifty searches for answers to her brother’s addiction through science and facts, whereas her mother looks to the church for comfort. A story about immigration, race and faith in the face of tragedy, Transcendent Kingdom is about the complicated relationship between mother and daughter moving through grief in entirely different ways.
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