The Vanishing Half – Staff Pick – Cherise

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

I wasn’t a big fan of it the first couple of chapters, but I think I just wasn’t in the right headspace for this story. It didn’t take long for that opinion to change. I quickly became wrapped into this story and characters, needing to know more about the mystery of Stella. I tend to struggle with books that are family sagas like this one was, but this story somehow did it in a way that wasn’t hard to follow and left you wanting more. The story revolves around Desiree and Stella, twin sisters who live in the town of Mallard in the deep south. The “town” (as we find out later it’s not a real town according to the government, but it’s clear this is simply because of who lives there) is populated by light skin African Americans. At 16 the twins run to New Orleans, escaping the town they grew up, that their own family founded. But not long after Stella disappears, leaving Desiree alone. The story revolves on Stella’s disappearance and the aftermath, as life goes on. Desiree comes back to Mallard years later with a daughter, Jude, who is dark skinned and is ridiculed by the kids at school. We meet Early, a boy that Desiree had fallen for as a teenager and is given a second chance with, who had been hunting down Desiree and Jude (he’s a bounty hunter who was paid to try to find them) only to volunteer to look for Stella while keeping their secret. I picked up this book because it had LGBTQA+ representation and we find that representation when  Jude when she moves to California for college. She meets Reese, a sweet man that is hard not to love instantly. We learn Reese is a trans man and he has gay friends who are drag queens. The whole group of characters are simply really well done and hard not to love. We learn Stella is living a double life, one in which she hides that she’s African American from her husband and daughter, this all in the time of racial discrimination. It leaves the reader wondering, if you had a chance like Stella, would you take it? Would you kill the person you were after all the hate you saw growing up? Or would you be like Desiree who refuses to kill that part of her, even working for the FBI in a time when there was questions of if the FBI had any link to the death of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, only to return to Mallard, the home she was so desperate to escape. Both twins live completely different lives and have daughters that remind them more of their sister than themselves.  I highly recommend this book. It’s a really interesting story that might take you out of your comfort zone. It makes you look at race relations in this country in a different life and forces you to ask what would you do in this situation, knowing the hardships and abuses these women faced and the lives of their daughters.

4 stars

The Serpent King – Staff Review – Cherise

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

This book has been on my To Be Read List for a long time. I finally picked it up after a friend of mine sent me a copy. I was struggling to find something to read that caught my attention even while in a reading slump. The Serpent King was able to do that. I devoured it. It was the first book in a long time I didn’t put aside to read another book. And then another book. 

This book follows three friends, Dill, Lydia, and Travis in their senior year of high school in a small Tennessee town. All three are misfits, not exactly fitting in at school. It’s how they became friends. Dill is the son of a Pentecostal preacher who used live snakes in his services who was arrested, grandson of the famed Serpent King, believing madness comes to each Dillard Early (he is the third). Travis deals with hardships at home and the grief over the death of his brother. Lydia is made for big city life, having managed to somehow run an extremely popular blog and is in some cases famous in the larger world but not where she lives. There was something so completely wonderful and aching about this story that simply kept your attention through the whole thing. If spots were slow, it was done in a way that was still entertaining. This story truly knows how to get you to become attached to these characters quickly and to leave you completely wrapped up in their happiness and loses. 

I recommend this book for anyone who wants to read about small town life (though in the south in a lot of ways you can relate with living in a small town even here in Maine) with wonderfully descriptive writing that really connects with you. The Serpent King is available on the CloudLibrary to check out and I highly recommend it. Just be prepared for some tissues!

5 Stars