Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

RATING: 9/10


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 RoomMy Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.


“The excuses we make for them are outrageous, but they’re nothing compared with the ones we make for ourselves.”

My Dark Vanessa, oh gosh, how do I start reviewing this. This book, is really really dark, compelling and cringe-worthy. Basically, its about a 15 year old girl (Vanessa Wye) who is entangled in an affair with her 42 year old English teacher (Jacob Strane). But being 15, Vanessa did not know that she was actually sexually abused and even manipulated by Strane at that time. When she realized that there are other victims out there, she still refuses to believe that she was abused by a pedophile.

“You can’t rape the willing”.

That’s what Vanessa is constantly telling herself. Throughout the story, Vanessa is constantly making up excuses to convince herself that the relationship between her and Strane is true love and no one should judge it because of the massive age difference between them. To some extent, she is traumatized by this relationship and refused to admit it. She finally opens up with her therapist and she knows that she needs more time to go through this, not alone, but with the help of others. My Dark Vanessa explored the mentality of someone who is being sexually abused for a long period of time and the aftermath of it. It is really powerful and impactful. There are a lot of sensual and heart aching moments. We can see that the author has done a lot of research in this regard by interviewing victims of sexual abuse. Not only that, the author managed to carve out the mentality of a sexual predator very decently. Strane’s manipulative conversation with Vanessa is also a highlight in this book. The author also explored the issue of the educational system which fails to protect such victims.

On a side note, I also love the fact that the author made a lot of literary references in this book as Vanessa is taking literature courses conducted by Strane. One notable piece of work which is constantly highlighted in this book is Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. I was made to understand that Lolita is one of the greatest literature which sparks a lot of controversy. I am really curious about Lolita and decided to get a copy of it after reading this book!

My Dark Vanessa truly is a great debut. Deserved a 9/10 star rating. Beware, this book is not for the faint-hearted, but everyone should read this to look into the issue of sexual abuse in school, which is happening subtly in our daily lives.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Diana Cadavid says:

    Very good review. I read this book a couple of months ago and I thought it was a very powerful book. Something like having a relationship with a teacher, is a situation that can actually be romanticized by teenagers without realizing that even though they think the relationship is consensual they can be so easily manipulated and abused. At the end I was kind of annoyed at Vanessa for taking so long to realize that what Strane did to her was indeed abuse, but looking back on it I understand that basically she spent all her youth thinking that she was in love with this person and it is very difficult to accept that a person you love has abused you. The end was somewhat hopeful for Vanessa but I would have liked to see her end in a better position, but I have to accept not all books a have a happy ending. Very good review!


    1. khaijian says:

      Agree! At Vanessa’s age she can be manipulated easily and they are always the targets for sexual predators. Although they might not think its abuse but it is indeed abuse. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s