No Spoiler Book Review
My Dark Vanessa is a difficult, but important book. This is not a book you read for pleasure, this is a book you read to get a better understanding of sexual abuse and trauma.
Vanessa is fifteen when she goes to live at a prestigious boarding school. She is a misfit and a loner, she’s not interested in normal teenage activities. She’s not interested in spending time with other girls and she’s not interested in dating boys. She is interested in men, and particularly her forty-two year old English professor.
My Dark Vanessa explores the issue of consent. Specifically, consent between a physically and emotionally mature young woman and a much older authority figure. Can an intelligent and mindful minor girl give consent to an adult man?
This book also contemplates the #MeToo movement and asks if it is truly a benefit to women. Is it best to put the abuse behind you and move on? Or is it best to “come forward” to protect other women and girls? Is there an answer that is right for everyone?
Kate Elizabeth Russell has the most glorious writing style. I would love for everyone to read this book, but I fear that because it is SO DARK, most people will pass. Women will choose to skip it because of their own trauma (no judgement, please don’t read this, if you are sensitive to this topic). Men will choose to skip it because they don’t see this as their problem (booooo!!!!).
My hope is that Russell will continue to bless us with incredible stories. I would love for her to write about an attractive, mid-thirties power couple and their aggressive, yet respectful sex life, but honestly, I will read anything she writes.
This is a hard book to recommend because of the trauma associated with it. I feel like most people have to find their own way to this book. I would only recommend this to people that I am very good friends with, and only if I know it will not upset them.
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My Dark Vanessa was selected for Bossy Librarian’s March Can’t Wait Book List!
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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.
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.
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