My Dark Vanessa

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell Book Summary


“Russell manages a brutal originality. . . . [an] exceedingly complex, inventive, resourceful examination of harm and power.” —The New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice

“To call this book a ‘conversation piece’ or ‘an important book’ feels belittling . . . [it] is so much more than that. It’s a lightning rod. A brilliantly crafted novel.”—The Washington Post

A most anticipated book by The New York Times • USA Today • Entertainment Weekly • Marie Claire • Elle • Harper's Bazaar • Bustle • Newsweek • New York Post • Esquire •  Real Simple • The Sunday Times • The Guardian 

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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My Dark Vanessa (Kate Elizabeth Russell) Book Reviews

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- My Dark Vanessa1 star

Zero stars. Worst book I’ve read in a long time.

- My Dark Vanessa5 star

Sad story, I felt sorry for her. He knew she was weak and alone with no friends away from home. Her parents should have investigated into the teacher, Vanessa was not the first. Well written story.

- Hard to put down5 star

This book was provocative, erotic, disturbing, frustrating and hopeful. I was immediately engrossed in the story and couldn’t put it down. Vanessa is a complex character. She’s delusional about being abused but she had to make her own truth to survive just like her abuser, the English teacher. It’s a well written story that flashes back and forth in Vanessa’s life. I love the writing style and think this would be a great book club book. So much to discuss and analyze. I really enjoyed it!

- Good... but about 100 pages too long.3 star

The book is sharply written and presents an insight I’ve never seen in a novel before when it comes to such delicate subject matter. There’s nothing about abuse that can be neatly packaged but while the book gave us insight, I wish it would have given us lessons and cautionary takeaways instead of repetitive references to Nabokov’s Lolita. Also, I feel like it missed the mark in terms of exploring the protagonist’s own mindset before the abuse. There is some proof that she is academically gifted (which doesn’t always translate to success in the world of work) but there seem to be a lack of familial support which may point to other issues which compounded her situation.

- Entire book is about a pedofile1 star

Don’t do this to yourself. I waited the whole book for some mystery. The only mystery is why I paid to read about this sick teacher and his young girls

- Worth it5 star

The raw honesty in the story was difficult for me. Vanessa is a fully developed character, and the story moves at a good pace, yet allowing you to be in Vanessa at all times. You feel what she is feeling. The writing is excellent.

- This book stays with you5 star

Although the subject matter is quite hard to digest, the author tells the story beautifully in a way never done before, giving a voice to victims. A must read.

- Enlightening in the most heartbreaking way5 star

This book is nothing like I’ve ever read. The character of Vanessa touches your soul in every which way by challenging what it means to be a victim. Such a topical piece that is tragic, profound, and bittersweet.

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