My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

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? (Published: 2020/ Pages: 369/Genre: Psychological Fiction)

My Dark Vanessa is a dark and twisted story surrounding the relationship between Vanessa who was only fifteen at the time and her forty-plus-year old English teacher, Mr. Strane. The story is told from Vanessa’s point of view as an adult in her thirties. Allegations come to light of sexual abuse from teenage girls that Mr. Strane had abused them in various ways. Leading to Vanessa being asked to recount her experiences with Mr. Strane and the extent of their relationship together. This story flips from the present day to the year Vanessa and Mr. Strane met. Join Vanessa as she navigates her journey of trauma, hurt, and abuse, as she tries to make sense of her experiences now that a new light is being shined on old events.

This was one of the hardest books for me to read. It was sad, twisted, dark, raw, and filled with an overwhelming amount of unbelievably detailed abuse on a young fifteen-year girl. The writing was exquisite, the details were pure, and the plot was memorable. One of the most well-written books I have come across in my years of reading, although the writing was perfect, the story itself was rough. Vanessa was such an authentic character it was easy to view her as an average high school student. The thought process of her at fifteen vs her as an adult in her thirties was projected in such an elegant manner, it flowed with ease from past to present.  It was honestly scary how real this story was, that abuse like this happens every single day, with kids too scared to come forward, schools sweeping abuse under the rug, or children not even realizing what is happening to them. My heart bled for Vanessa, as I found myself wanting to scream a thousand times that none of this is okay! Run! That is not love, that is abuse! The impact that it on her throughout life showed the severity of ongoing trauma and how it engulfs you, changing your few on life altogether.

This is not a book that I can group into things I liked vs things I did not like. Sure, I loved the writing, but the story was not easy to digest. I was captivated by the presentation of the story, even the execution. But there was not one single happy moment in this whole book . . . It was depressing from start to finish. It captured every detailed moment of abuse from grooming to rape, to the aftermath of a woman trying to piece together what had happened to her for years. I found myself filled with so much hate and disgust, disgust with the school, with Mr. Strane. Hate for Vanessa’s parents, for the indignity that the school put her through to save themselves. This was not a feel-good book, this was not a sad story with a happy ending, this was sick from start to finish. This book got into the darkest places of PTSD from the effects of sexual abuse and made you absorb every ounce of discomfort. This book touches on a taboo topic, making you experience abuse from the viewpoint of a teenage victim.

Do I recommend this book? Yes and No . . . This is not a simple answer, as this was not a simple book.Β  My feelings regarding it are as complex as the story itself. If you are triggered by rape, assault on children, PTSD brought on by sexual assault then I would say do not read this, it is extremely detailed in the sexual encounters between Vanessa and Mr. Strane. If you are looking for a raw, real, tough topic read that sheds light on a real issue faced by many young girls and women then yes, read this! Read this because this is happening, read this to understand the inner thoughts of survivors, read this to know. Overall, I enjoyed this book for what it was. I would not suggest this book to everyone or even anyone, but I am glad I experienced it for myself. If you are interested, I suggest you read it and make up your mind, experience it with your feelings, I promise you will have a lot from this thought-provoking emotional book. If you have read it, I would love to hear your thoughts. If you have not but intend to, I would like to hear your thoughts afterward.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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