Brit Bennett weaves an intricate tale of sisterhood, family and finding one’s identity in this decades spanning novel. Told first from the perspectives of the Vignes twins, Desiree and Stella; then from the perspectives of their daughters, Jude and Kennedy, the story gives readers an intimate look at four women trying to find their place in society and maybe a little happiness along the way.
Born and raised in Mallard, a small black town in Louisiana, the Vignes twins represented the town’s ideal of beauty. They, like everyone else in their small town had light skin, many people, the twins included, were fair skinned enough to pass as white. Stella does just that shortly after she and Desiree run away from home at just 16 years old in 1968. From there the twins lives take drastically different courses.
After enduring multiple childhood traumas, Stella, the quiet twin, eventually makes the life changing decision to pass over. Leaving behind everything, including her beloved sister Desiree, she marries a wealthy white man and moves to Los Angeles. They raise a daughter, Kennedy, and Stella spends the rest of her life fearing that her family and her new community will discover her secret and cast her out.
Wild child Desiree feels a little homesick in New Orleans but after Stella abandons her, vanishing without a trace, she can no longer return home. Unable to endure the city without her twin, she moves to D.C. and marries a successful black lawyer. He’s dark skinned, much darker than anyone she’s ever met, but he’s so charming. They have a daughter, Jude, who turns out just as ebon skinned as her father. Eventually he drops the charming facade and begins abusing Desiree and she flees back to Mallard after he nearly kills her. Now, back in the town she couldn’t wait to leave she makes a life for herself and her child, who is ostracized by the other children for being so different.
Cousins Jude and Kennedy live drastically different lives. Jude grew up shy and unsure of herself in a town full of people who disdained her dark complexion. Kennedy grew up with no knowledge of the black heritage of her mother’s family. The two meet as college students at a dinner party, Jude working and Kennedy attending. This chance meeting is the catalyst of a series of events that will eventually lead each women to reckon with her life’s choices and decide once and for all who they want to be.
This book was an emotional rollercoaster. One minute I hate a character but by the next chapter I just want to give her a hug.
These four women each had their flaws. Selfishness, lies, fear, deception. But they all had redeeming qualities as well. Love, loyalty, protectiveness, perseverance. And that’s the beauty of them. It’s what made them so human.
Bennett challenges a lot of the tropes and stereotypes often attributed to black women. The strong black woman, angry black woman, colorism, sexual identity, love. American society has always tried to force black women into certain roles, but in this book those roles are rejected over and over.
The Vignes twins are two sides of the same coin. Each doing the opposite of what the other does. Stella passes for white and marries a white man. Desiree marries the darkest black man she could find. Their daughters too are polar opposites. Jude being dark skinned and shy, while Kennedy passes for white and is outgoing. Their lives could be a case study.
What are the lessons this book tries to teach us? Well, I think the biggest is to be yourself. Sounds cheesy, but I think it’s the most valid. Stella tried to be someone else and spent most of her adult life miserable. I think another lesson is to love people for who they are. Several of our characters benefited from this advice. Jude and Reese are prime examples. They loved each deeply, secrets, insecurities and all the rest. Even though they broke up, that love was exactly what they needed when they met as teens.
I give this book five stars. I’d recommend this book to anyone who’s trying to find themselves or anyone trying to figure out someone they love.