Monday, July 13, 2020

Not An Easy Read, But A Good One!

TITLE: My Dark Vanessa
AUTHOR: Kate Elizabeth Russell
PUBLISHER: William Morrow
PUBLISHING DATE: March 10, 2020


Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet na├»ve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.  

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher. 

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed? 

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

I've pretty much only heard good things about this book so I knew that sooner or later I'd be picking it up.  While I have to come right out and say I love this book and I think it's very deserving of a 5/5 rating, I also hated this book but strictly because the subject matter is so disturbing and all too prevalent.  I also need to explain that I investigated child abuse and neglect cases for 14 years so my personal experiences and training really led to me picking up on things and honing in on incidents that I could have easily have glossed over. 

The reader gets to see two different Vanessas.  The one in 2000 when she was a 15 year-old girl attending a private boarding school and one in 2017, where now an adult, she is still pretty much a 15 year-old girl.  As a child Vanessa is a pretty lonely girl.  She is an only child and has a supportive mother and father.  Her first year of boarding school, which she so desperately wanted to attend, went well.  But then she lost her best friend, making year too very hard and difficult.  She has always lost herself in her writing which makes her a perfect victim for Jacob Strane, the school's English teacher.

So starts the relationship which begins with grooming and manipulation and ends with much of the same.  Jacob clearly knows what he is doing when he befriends Vanessa and it doesn't take much effort to lure her into his bed.  Which is usually how things like that go.  As the "relationship" progresses, other students catch on and without giving a lot away, Vanessa ends up sacrificing everything for the man she loves.  Even when the reader is in the 2017 timeline, Strane still has a hold on Vanessa and has clearly made a permanent mark on her life.

I didn't really like Vanessa but that's okay.  She was easily manipulated and needy and did not have a good grasp on what was happening to her and you know what?  All of that is okay.  When the abuse started, which she did not view as abuse, she was a child.  She didn't know a thing about love and was lured in by promises and tenderness from a man who gives creep a whole new name.  I've met Vanessa and while I was always diligent in finding justice for her, I will be honest and admit a lot of times that Vanessa wasn't likable either.  It was so hard not to shake or slap her in the hopes she would open her eyes.  But in the end, Vanessa was a child and should never have had to play by adult rules.

I would highly recommend this book but beware, I think every trigger warning possible is represented (except animal abuse - thank Heaven).  Just know it's not going to be a light, easy read but you just may find it's one you can't put down.



  1. I'd love to read this one of these days, although just about every review I've read has come with a warning. But I do love seeing that 5 star rating!

  2. wow...sounds very intense. your review has me wanting to read it. i like when my emotions get all wonky from reading
    sherry @ fundinmental

  3. Me and Melody are going to read this one together later this summer. I'm just waiting for my library hold to come in. So, I'm glad to see your 5-paw rating because I know this one is going to be a difficult read for me. :)

  4. This definitely strikes me as the kind of heavy story that I'd need to be in the right mood to read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. A 5 paw rating is a good thing! It certainly sounds like an intense read.