Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

“Sometimes it feels like that’s all I’m doing every time I reach out—trying to haunt, to drag him back in time, asking him to tell me again what happened. Make me understand it once and for all. Because I’m still stuck here. I can’t move on.”

― Kate Elizabeth Russell, My Dark Vanessa

My Dark Vanessa contrasts memory and pain with the thrilling pleasure of a teenage girl learning the power her own body may wield by switching back and forth between Vanessa's present and her past. This is a brilliant representation of disturbed adolescence and its effects that is assumed and impossible to put down and asks crucial questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimization. My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining book that masterfully catches and reflects the evolving cultural mores that are reshaping our relationships and society as a whole. It was written with the eerie intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room. A remarkable, engrossing book that marks the explosive debut of an amazing new writer, exploring the psychological intricacies of the interaction between a clever yet naive young girl and her alluring and manipulative instructor.

Synopsis from Goodreads...

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?

My reaction to this novel...

This book first caught my attention on Instagram. I saw that this book was being read by a lot of people on that platform, so I bought it right away online so that I could read it. Since I've had this book on my shelf for a while and am currently working abroad, I actually forgot about its existence. I only recently came across it again and chose to read it after the book I'm now reading. I have really high expectations for this book because I've read many positive reviews about it, and I'm eager to find out what's within.

So I started reading this book and was astonished and perplexed by what the author included as a disclaimer. She stated that this is a work of fiction, but she also stated that something occurred to her earlier when she was young (something about her school withdrawal during her ninth, tenth grade and college days), and that this book has nothing to do with what happened to her during those times. Neither is it a representation in any kind. So I got quite interested in both the narrative and what happened to the author. As a result, my urge to read the book had peaked, so I started reading it and found myself unable to put it down.

I discovered while reading the novel that Vanessa's narrative is really dark. It was so creepy and intense that I couldn't help but wonder why and how it occurred to her. Though the novel makes it very apparent what happened, I find it difficult to swallow and accept the fact that it really happened to her. It was quite difficult to comprehend the thoughts of people like Vanessa and Jacob. Even though I believed the main character in this narrative, Jacob, to be deceitful, I still found Vanessa to be more unsettling than he is. I am sometimes frustrated by her way of thinking, but most of the time I feel sorry for her and what she has become as a result of her traumatic past.

To be honest, not everyone will enjoy this dark tale. Flipping over the pages gave me a strange feeling. Because it is very difficult and inconceivable for me to imagine myself in Vanessa's position, I was infuriated and in awe. She was really disturbing, and I had the impression that her psychological capability calls for greater medical care. She had extremely damaged reasons for simply putting up with it and believing whatever she wanted to think. I believe she has spent her entire life in complete denial. Vanessa's character and her family's relationships were thoughtfully depicted by the author, which lends credence to the theory of how her cold and aloof attitude emerged.

Vanessa attempts to idealize a relationship that, to the other perspective, is abusive and prohibited, but to her, it was never that. Despite Vanessa's repeated assertions that Jacob Strane was her true love, this took me a while to grasp. The more I learned about Vanessa's experience, the more I realized how helpless she actually was, despite my desire to be receptive to it. I got only the impression that Jacob was scared that Vanessa would drag him down and will be the reason why he will be terminated, so he had to keep an eye on her or at least anticipate her next step. Although I truly don't want to give away the plot, I feel as though I would be lacking in self-expression if I didn't mention these things.

The novel just seems authentic. It is entirely possible. It reads naturally. I can't think of a more realistic fictional depiction of an abusive relationship between an adolescent girl and an older guy. Others may condemn this book because the tale is repulsive and horrible, but in my opinion, the author is so distinctive in producing the subject that she very well argues that it is fictional, which I may have a slight question about. I strongly suggest it to all adult readers, particularly parents. Even if it isn't in general, I believe it will serve as a guidance and caution to all of us to be more vigilant in assuring the future of the young ones.

My Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨(4.5/5)

“People will risk everything for a little bit of something beautiful.”

People are drawn to attractive things. Most of them are willing to risk losing everything in their lives in order to have the lovely things they desire. Beautiful things may appear to be pleasurable, but I believe we must measure our options and consider the big picture. We should be aware of the implications of our actions in order to acquire the lovely things we desire. It may be difficult to resist such cravings, but it is well worth it, particularly if it means putting yourself in danger.

Where to buy this book?


Disclaimer: Booksreadbyhannel is not a business website. The opinions expressed here are unbiased and based only on my own feelings and reactions while reading the books I featured here in my blog. My reviews reflect my utmost sincerity. I paid for the books I review here out of my own pocket. Books provided by authors and publishers are otherwise specified.