Highlights in the Charts: Issue 2
The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett
The Vanishing Half is an incredibly beautiful story of identity, race, history and family. It tells the story of twin sisters, Desiree and Stella, who grow up together in the town of Mallard, but go on to choose different paths as adults. While Desiree marries a Black man and brings his child back to her childhood home, Stella passes as white and ingrains herself in white culture. The journey of each sister is painful, emotional and often beautiful, as they search within themselves to find happiness and fulfilment.
The book skips forward in time to the lives of Desiree and Stella’s daughters, Jude and Kennedy. Even though they are so different and have led completely opposite lives, it is fascinating how Jude and Kennedy’s lives keep overlapping. Despite their dramatic differences, they still find an undeniable connection between them. Bennett does not stop there, introducing characters like Early Jones and Reese, who highlight new themes of love and identity. The power of this heartfelt story shines through the writing, which is intricate, investigative and, above all, emotive.
The interlinking stories and histories between each character are what makes this book so magnificent. The town of Mallard itself allows for a lot of discussions – a town of Black people so pale they could pass as white. It’s intriguing and brings the discussion about race to the forefront of this book. This book shines a light on the history of Black people passing as white, on racism throughout the generations and on the struggles Desiree and Stella have in finding themselves.
Finishing this book will make you feel as if you’ve just come out of a dream. It’s utterly absorbing, extremely clever and full of emotion guaranteed to keep your attention throughout.
Invisible Women: Exploring Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado-Perez
Globally, 75% of the world’s unpaid work is completed by women. From bus routes that appeal to the typical linear commute of men to a snow clearing schedule in Sweden that increased injuries in women, Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez is an undeniable indictment of structural sexism in our daily lives. Sweeping from how sexual assault statistics are linked to unlit toilets to the impacts of uniform in the US army not being designed for the female body, Criado-Perez exposes the laziness of a world where male is the assumed norm.
There are invisible women everywhere. Travelling from farming in Syria to transport systems in Spain, via nail salons in the UK, Invisible Women leaves no continent unscathed. A major strength of this book is its examination of how international connectivity manifests a gender data gap on a global scale. Bias is written into the structure of every society, to the extent that both policymakers and citizens should pay sharp attention.
It seems like common sense that the side effects of medication are different for men and women, so why are medical testing groups so homogenous? Wielding data like a sword, the truth of Criado-Perez’s words is undeniable. The beauty of data is that it highlights a systemic problem without placing fault. It is not the fault of the individual that there is an inherent bias in the data we use to shape policy, build housing and even save lives, but it is our duty to change this.
Invisible Women uses watertight figures to prove that the seemingly objective is entirely misleading, building momentum for a final rallying cry for change. As so many of us use this time to educate ourselves in matters of social justice, Invisible Women is a must-read.
Humorous, readable and flawlessly researched, Criado-Perez has created a bulldozer ready to take down our learned sexism, one data set at a time.
Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
Delia Owens’ astonishing debut, Where the Crawdads Sing, is a remarkable case study of what a bestselling debut can achieve. The novel has been met with mixed responses, but it has since sold over four and a half million copies, and it is easy to see why.
Where the Crawdads Sing is a scorching, atmospheric summer read. It narrates the story of Kya, the “Marsh Girl”, who resides in the marshes of North Carolina, and, despite living a reclusive life, she becomes embroiled in the scandalous accusations of the townspeople.
Despite being mocked and ridiculed at school, Kya teaches herself about the wonders of the marsh, and some of the most resonant descriptions come from Owens’ clear adoration and knowledge of this striking landscape. Upon reading the vivid descriptions of the marsh, Kya exclaims: “I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.” The novel becomes, in part, a poignant social commentary. Where the Crawdads Sings explores racial and class division in the mid-20th century, as well as threats to natural landscapes that are just as pertinent today.
As a New York Times bestseller, the novel has sold millions of copies internationally and is being developed into a film by Reese Witherspoon’s production company. Perhaps the novel consequently suffers from the common problem of being overhyped, but it has had an astonishing trajectory for any debut novelist, much less for a reclusive biologist. Where the Crawdads Sing is intriguing for any book lover, but especially publishers who are interested in why these books become international bestsellers. For now, it is worth celebrating that, at seventy years old, Delia Owens has become a master of her craft.