Hi everyone! Today I’ll be reviewing My Dark Vanessa and while it has been on my list of 2020 releases to look out for, the book was too dark for me to review it in depth. This book deals with topics such as child grooming and sexual abuse so be prepared before you dive into it.
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.
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.
– My Thoughts –
My Dark Vanessa is one of the most uncomfortable reads I’ve had the pleasure of reading. A sentence I never thought I’d utter.
We read the book from Vanessa(the protagonist)’s perspective where she doesn’t see herself as a victim at first. The entirety of the book has scenes that made me throw the book and rush outside to try and control my emotions; to remind that while the situations are hardly fictional but the story I was reading is.
The story alternates between 2008 and 2017 and we see how Vanessa is groomed and then raped by her teacher Jacob Strane. The battle Vanessa has with the realisation that she has been abused rather than anything else is described so painfully well that it gets under your skin. You grow up reading horror stories about mythical monsters and ghosts and whatnots but the real monsters are ones right in front of us, entangled in our daily lives. Teachers like Jacob Strane and other figures you probably see on the news and some you don’t see.
The book goes on for long, too long when it wasn’t really needed. Sometimes the lines would blur and it felt as if the sex scenes were romanticized. Besides those grievances, there were similarities to Lolita and #MeToo; another piece of reality would slap you in the face when you see how the people close to Vanessa responded to her.
Overall, I don’t whether to “recommend” it. If my friends ask for a recommendation, I don’t know if I’ll blurt out My Dark Vanessa as the first answer. This novel is dark and claustrophobic starring a real-life monster that will make you want to tear said monster from limb-to-limb. For a debut novel, if I were still rating, I’d rate My Dark Vanessa a solid 4/5 stars.
Thanks to the publisher for gifting me an ARC in exchange for an honest review!
– About the Author –
Kate Elizabeth Russell was born and raised in eastern Maine. She holds an MFA from Indiana University and a PhD from the University of Kansas. My Dark Vanessa is her first novel.
Thank you for reading! Do you read books that are out of your comfort zone? Will you read My Dark Vanessa? If you’ve already read it, then I’d love to know what you thought as well!