Cover Image: My Dark Vanessa

My Dark Vanessa

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Member Reviews

I’m years too late submitting this review. This book hit me like a ton of bricks - so close to home, I couldn’t bring myself to review it. I couldn’t review it in a way that captures how necessary this book is. How much I love this book. How REAL this is for a work of fiction. The perspective, more than anything else, is one I have never seen nor read, but desperately needed.  

This was raw, heartbreaking, and truly incredible. Vanessa’s skewed understanding of her relationship with Strane can only come from one of deep manipulation (and power). Vanessa, like others in her situation romanticize abuse. Her struggle throughout the novel to understand what she experienced is genuine. It would be easy for a reader to disagree with Vanessa unless they’ve been in Vanessa’s shoes him/herself. I challenge everyone who reads this work of art to empathize. 

Incredible incredible incredible. 5/5 stars forever.
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Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.

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.

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.
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This book was heavy and dark but very well written. It definitely could be shortened a bit, but overall, the experience of knowing and seeing everything through Vanessa's perspective was excellent. This book was written before the #metoo culture but it fits in well.

It was interesting to really see how Vanessa framed what happened to her as a love story. It is clear that Strane is manipulating her and taking advantage of her, but she doesn't see it. He's twisted the narrative on her and essentially gaslighted her as the years went on, but she can't or won't see it.

It is sad because this is likely the kind of thing that happens all over the world. I think the author did an incredible job telling this story, and I do wonder if there is some factual basis to it.
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This is not an easy read and I found myself putting the book down, walking away, only to return because I was compelled to find out what happened to Vanessa. We are introduced to Vanessa in 2017, working as a concierge at a Portland, Maine hotel. News has broken that her former high school English teacher has been accused by a former student of inappropriate sexual conduct. The reader is then taken back to Vanessa's time in high school and her own relationship with this teacher, Jacob Strane. While many believe she was sexually abused by him (she was 15, he was 42) she believes the relationship was consensual. a once promising writer, Vanessa has spent the last 17 years struggling both professionally and personally. While the reader is well aware that Strane was a predator who groomed Vanessa for years (including still being in contact with her in present day,) the reader also follows Vanessa as she reexamines their relationship and the discoveries she makes along the way. While what happens to Strane feels unfulfilled, it was not unrealistic, but this seems to be the catalyst that moves Vanessa forward, but as a reader, you are left without a final resolution, but I feel that was the only way to truly end a story of this magnitude. Throughout the novel I felt both frustrated with and angry for Vanessa and what she went through, but I found the portrayal realistic. I would recommend this book to anyone who would like a better understanding of those who remain in abusive relationships and why, but I would also warn anyone who has suffered sexual abuse/assault in any way to tread carefully. I look forward to Russell's future endeavors.
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I did not dislike this book, but I did not love this book as so many others have. This may be a case of "right book, wrong time," as I had the day off from work and read about 75% of the book in one day, but it wasn't really a page-turner, which made it feel more drawn-out and repetitive than it might have otherwise. I do agree this is an important story to be told, and I thought it was interesting how the author showed how the events of the main character's teenage years continued to affect her well into adulthood. Overall, I can see why this resonated with so many people, but it didn't quite land for me. I hope it works for you!
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Very dark and disturbing, which made this book perfect for me. It was interesting seeing where Vanessa was at in present day verus when she was fifteen. I took a lot of notes for when I eventually use this in one of my book discussions at work. I tried to read this title as a mini book discussion along with my friend, but she couldn't handle anything past 30% due to the graphic content.
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Kate Elizabeth Russell's debut novel, My Dark Vanessa, is a complex exploration of guilt and innocence set against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement.

The plot of Kate Elizabeth Russell's My Dark Vanessa follows the life of Vanessa Wye, who at the age of 15 begins an affair with a teacher of hers, Jacob Strane, not quite thirty years her senior. The first-person present narration first shows Vanessa at 32 years old, as she becomes aware of social media posts concerning her former instructor; another young woman has come forward accusing him of abusing her when she was his student. Strane calls Vanessa, and while it seems they've maintained contact over the years, it's clear that his purpose is to make sure Vanessa has no intention of backing the woman's story. It's also apparent that while Vanessa's life is a mess—dead-end job, meaningless one-night stands with strangers and self-medication with drugs and alcohol—she is still in love with Strane and thinks he's done no wrong. As more women turn up with similar claims, Vanessa comes under increasing pressure to tell her story.

Alternating with the present timeline is Vanessa's account of meeting Strane as a teenager and how they eventually become intimate. 15-year-old Vanessa is immediately entranced by her teacher, and she deliberately goes out of her way to make herself attractive to him. It's clear to readers how she might think she's the instigator of what she considers to be a romance, but as she describes how the two become close, we can see how Strane is grooming her, even if the young Vanessa can't. This plotline tracks Vanessa as she ages into adulthood, with the thread eventually meeting up with the current Vanessa's timeline.

Russell's writing is stunning, bordering on poetic at times. Vanessa is first wooed with the works of Dickinson and Plath, and the character writes verse herself, so the lyrical nature of her observations feels right:

"Winter makes everyone weary this year. The cold is relentless, nights dipping to twenty below, and when the temperature goes above zero, it snows – days and days of it. After each storm, the snow banks grow until campus becomes a walled maze under a pile of gray sky, and clothes that were new at Christmas quickly turn salt-stained and pilled as the reality of four more months of winter settles in."

The author goes beyond simply beautiful writing to completely get into the mind and soul of her character. During one encounter with Strane, Vanessa thinks to herself, "His worry is obvious, about me and what we're doing. The smallest movement makes him jump, like I'm an animal prone to bolt or bite."

There are ample risks in penning a first-person narrative, particularly when the story concerns a character at two radically different ages; the protagonist's voice may end up being too similar throughout, their perspective can become one-dimensional and young characters may come off as being too mature for their supposed ages. Russell expertly dodges these traps, creating a character who isn't necessarily likeable all the time but is convincing.

Readers should be aware that the subject matter is without doubt disturbing. Strane's manipulation of Vanessa (both as a child and an adult) is unsettling, as is Vanessa's inability to see the harm he's causing her. The sex scenes between the two are also fairly explicit, adding to the disconcerting feeling some may experience when reading these pages. While the book may be a good object lesson for late teens, its graphic nature makes it more appropriate for an older audience.

My Dark Vanessa raises a number of complex questions: Is someone a victim of abuse if they believe they were complicit? What responsibility do people have to broadcast their painful experiences if doing so may prevent others from harm? What responsibilities do abusers have toward their victims when their actions have colored every aspect of their victims' futures? What does justice look like in these cases? Russell offers these and other conundrums up for discussion without answers; it's up to each reader to ponder them.
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My Dark Vanessa is a very apt title for this book.  It is, indeed, very dark.  I was at turns disgusted and frustrated by the characters, but hung in there and kept reading because, despite my frustration with Vanessa, she is a product of Strane's abuse.  I mostly felt sorry for her.  This was a difficult book to read, and I have to admit, I never did finish Lolita for the same reason.  This sexual exploitation of girls is stomach-turning, but I was drawn to this book anyway.  Don't get me wrong, this is a good book.  Just be ready for some nauseating scenes and if sexual exploitation is a trigger for you, steer clear.  This book brings to the forefront a real, true-to-life issue that we continue to struggle with, whether it be through inappropriate teacher-student relationships like this one or other inappropriate adult-minor relationships (coaches, tutors, etc.), this is something that needs more attention and needs harsher punishments for the adults and institutions involved.  Maybe this book can bring some awareness to the lasting damage that these relationships cause.
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"My Dark Vanessa" tells the story of Vanessa, a 15 year old who attends boarding school in New England. She becomes enraptured and involved with her professor, Jacob Strane.  The book follows their relationship over time, flashing back and forth to their time at school to the present. I found this book hard to connect with, and uncomfortable in places.  While the story was well written, I didn't understand the character's motives and why she keep inflicting pain upon herself.
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Fantastic book! Beautifully written story, although deeply disturbing subject matter. I think this book is timely, though.
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I could not put this book down. I read it on my kindle, on my phone, at work, at home; anywhere I could. Russell is a powerhouse. Everyone should read this book!
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I received a digital copy of this book from Netgalley for an honest review.

This was the most accurate portrayal of grooming and manipulation by a child predator I have ever read.  I think it goes without saying that this is an important, eye opening story that should be read but it will make you uncomfortable.  It is supposed to.  It is also another good example about healing at your own pace, not anyone else's.  

I have to say I'm confused about other reviewers saying this ends without hope when I read the opposite.  It may not end how everyone wants it to but I definitely felt hope and optimism.
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Dark, disturbing, infuriating. My Dark Vanessa is the story of a 15 year old high school freshman who earns a scholarship to an elite boarding school in Maine. Her English teacher begins grooming her and they begin a relationship that haunts Vanessa well into her twenties. The author does a fantastic job of illustrating the roles of victim and predator. The story is told from Vanessa’s point of view which shows the reader the depth of her trauma and abuse as she slowly comes to the realization that she is indeed the victim. Such a timely read in light of the present day stories about Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, and most recently Marilyn Manson.
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Going between the present and the past of Vanessa, you will find out just why the word "dark" is used in the title.  Step into the life of Vanessa and all the intimate and disturbing things that happens to her.  Can you handle everything that has happened to this young lady?  Or not?  Read it to find out....
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Lolita from the young woman's perspective. It leans on Nabakov. I wondered if Vanessa was being gaslit, and it is to the writer's credit that it was not apparent at first. By design, an uncomfortable reading experience.
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I had already heard this book was amazing before publication but I was not prepared for this. When there's a book that deals with physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse, a certain set of criteria comes to mind. This book throws all of that out the window and explores a more nuanced reaction. Not everyone is the same and this book's portrayal of Vanessa from 15 to late twenties shows that. At the end of the audiobook, Kate Russell in an interview says she wanted to write a book that people talked about and dissected.  I think she did just that and people will never be able to stop talking about it.
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An interesting read that will bring out several different emotions in people. I found myself very uncomfortable but could put it down,
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Was not what I was expecting at all. I had a tough time with the subject matter. DNF at about 60%. That aside,  it will most likely be a popular title for thriller fans and I look forward to discussing it with them.
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The topic of inappropriate student and teacher relationships is difficult to read and for a debut book, the author to draw the reader in just like that and not want to the put the book down, is a great feat. The book covers a wide range of emotions that I would or could imagine the character feels having never been in such a situation. At times, I disliked Vanessa and wanted to shake her awake and I disliked her teacher and wanted him to get caught. What an ending! The book is definitely a roller coaster ride of emotions, you want to jump off the moving train, can't watch the ending, but can't make herself stop reading the train wreck. I feel the book is timely given today's culture and the need to bring the reality of this issue to light.  I would definitely read anything else by this author. My library did purchase it and I do recommend it to other readers.
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Absolutely the best debut I have read in years!  Beautiful writing,
Devastating and horrifying.  I loved it.
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