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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Contemporary fiction

My Dark Vanessa

Debut
We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Kate Elizabeth Russell, on your first book!

by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Quick take

A student-teacher affair exposes dark truths about the nature of the past and memory—a gripping, propulsive must-read.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SocialIssues

    Social issues

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NonLinear

    Nonlinear timeline

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Sad

    Sad

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_ForbiddenLove

    Forbidden love

Illustrated icon, Icon_Challenging_Indicator

FYI

This book contains mentions of suicide and scenes that depict sexual assault.

Why I love it

Julie Buntin
Author, Marlena

When #MeToo first went viral, I scrolled through Twitter with my heart in my throat, thinking of things I didn’t want to revisit, hoping the unstoppable wave of testimony might mean real change for women. Kate Elizabeth Russell roots her remarkable debut, My Dark Vanessa, in a similar moment of public reckoning.

Her protagonist, Vanessa, a hotel receptionist in her early thirties, sees on Facebook that a woman has posted an accusation about her high school English teacher, Jacob Strane. Vanessa, too, had a relationship with Strane, one that began when she was fifteen and a student in his classroom, hungry to be noticed. But the Facebook post challenges the story Vanessa’s told herself about what happened, the story Strane groomed her to tell. How can she live if her great love affair is a story of rape and abuse?

The novel travels backward and forward at once, a gripping structural move that kept me racing through the pages even when I wanted to look away. Vanessa charts her relationship with Strane in painful detail, from the strawberry pajamas he makes her wear on their first night together to their phone calls when she’s an adult. The narration is intimate, relatable, and sometimes frustrating—page after page, even with the benefit of retrospection, she refuses to see what’s painfully clear to the reader. But how can we ask her to measure the depth of her wounds? She’s still bleeding out. For Vanessa, Strane’s abuse and distortion exist in an ongoing now. In rendering her struggle to come to terms with what happened, My Dark Vanessa underscores the fact that there’s no one-size-fits-all version of the story of a man taking advantage of a girl. If there is a way to heal, I believe it requires making space for them all.

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Synopsis

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. 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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Preview

Get an early look from the first pages of My Dark Vanessa.

Member thoughts

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All (865)
Love (523)
Like (295)
Dislike (47)
868 ratings
  • 60% Love
  • 34% Like
  • 5% Dislike
  • Whitesboro, TX

    I thought this was a great book, it is a powerful perspective on how a predator can groom an underage victim. I would say this could possibly be triggering to some, but I found it to be enlightening.

  • Pontiac , MI

    I was completely drawn in by Vanessa's story, which did such a great job in my opinion of showing how manipulative and unhealthy a relationship can be. It was a great but hard story to read.

  • Newhall, CA

    Sometimes the right book finds you at the right time. This book was complex and devastating (trigger warnings abound) but also helped to start healing some complicated wounds I still carry.

  • Brooklyn, NY

    This is one of those books impossible to rate. The writing is phenomenal, I couldn’t stop reading because I had to know how it was going to end. A very sad story that had to be written

  • Leopold, IN

    Amazing author! Loved her writing style and the story was heartbreaking and empowering all at once.

  • Wilmington, NC

    Traumatically beautiful. Relatable as a young woman. It’s comforting to see real life in a novel.

  • El Paso, TX

    Amazing perspective of someone groomed who truly believes they were in the wrong.

  • Austin, TX

    This was incredibly hard to read, but that’s how you know it’s well-written.

  • Elko New Market, MN

    Dark and twisted, but an excellent read. I couldn’t put it down.

  • East Longmeadow, MA

    One of the most thought provoking books I read last year.

  • Ft Worth, TX

    Powerful. A heavy book to digest but necessary to read.

  • Manchester , NH

    Dark and heavy, but excellent and an important read

  • Orlando, FL

    Wow, amazing book. It’s so dark and powerful

  • Charlotte, NC

    Thoroughly disturbing, but a great read.

  • Weymouth, MA

    So well written, and so disturbing.

  • Christiansburg, VA

    Tough read, but well written

  • New Castle, VA

  • ASTORIA, NY

  • Wichita, KS

  • Chaska, MN

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