The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is a novel about the Vignes twins, who grow up together in the small (fictional) Southern Black town of Mallard, Louisiana, in which the residents of the town have been modifying the population to be lighter and lighter skinned with each passing generation. The two girls run away together at the age of 16 to New Orleans. Years later, one of the women returns to Mallard with a dark-skinned daughter, and the other disappears completely, severing the relationship with her sister and her family to live life as a white woman. Over the multiple decades from the 1950s to the 1990s, we check in with each of the women and their daughters and learn how they deal with the choices they’ve made. This is a brilliant and emotional story about racial passing and what we gain and lose with complete transformation. — Julie Travers
The book “The Exiles” by Christina Baker Kline is a historical novel taking place in the 1840s. It tells the story of Evangeline, a young English governess, and Hazel, an Irish teenager, who meet on a transport ship to the penal colony on Van Dieman’s Land, (Tasmania), along with the story of Mathinna, the orphaned daughter of the Chief of the Lowreenne tribe, who has been appropriated by the wife of the new British governor of Van Diemen’s Land. While this is a gritty, fascinating story with plenty of substance, I found it to be a quick read. Along with the strong female characters, the background of Australian history will pull you in and keep you interested. Two things I found disappointing, Mathinna’s story has a very thin connection to Evangeline and Hazel and eventually just peters out. I wish the author had given her storyline a stronger ending. Also, about halfway through the book an upsetting event occurs that almost made me stop reading the book, but the story was compelling enough to keep me reading until the end. — Denise Runyan
I highly recommend this book, and I highly recommend you read it right now. It is just a slender novel, but this book is packed with so much and the majority of it made me feel deeply uncomfortable. Edie is a 23-year-old Black woman living in roach-infested apartment in Bushwick and working at a publishing company when she meets Eric, a digital archivist who is white and more than double her age. They begin seeing each other, as he is in an open marriage, but it is not long before the stories of Edie, Eric, his wife Rebecca, and his adopted daughter, Akila are all wrapped up together tightly. My head was spinning from being depressed by Edie’s story to being completely enthralled by her story. Along the way, the reader is affronted by the way systems of race, class, and gender disadvantage some and prop others up. Leilani’s writing style might not be for everyone, but I found it fresh and intimate. — Julie Travers
Steve Marantz is an author, journalist, and podcaster. His expansive career started in the newsroom of the Kansas City Star. He then moved on to the Boston Globe where he first covered sports, and then general assignment news and politics. He spent time at Sporting News Magazine and the Boston Herald before moving to ESPN.com and E:60, the sports newsmagazine broadcast by ESPN. He has written four books, including The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central: High School Basketball at the ’68 Racial Divide and Citizen Akoy: Basketball and the Making of a South Sudanese American. He has recently started his own podcast, Championship Stories.