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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Release Date: March 10, 2020
Actual Rating: 4 stars
Dark Literary Fiction
My Dark Vanessa is a hard book to rate. When I think about giving ratings, I’m thinking about whether I should recommend it to fellow readers. Could I possibly recommend something so heavy and dark to others when I myself found the book incredibly hard to digest? Should I recommended it despite my struggles with the subject matter because I KNOW how important it is? I don’t honestly know. So, what I’m doing here is not necessarily offering a recommendation to others but giving my personal thoughts and star rating based ONLY on how the book affected me.
As a whole, and after really thinking about the book and digesting my thoughts I decided to rate My Dark Vanessa with 4 stars. The main reason for the 4 stars is because the book was VERY slow. There are some parts that are extremely drawn out and while relevant to the story, just too much information all at once. I’m also giving it four stars because of how disgusted I felt when reading it. This has NOTHING to do with HOW the author wrote the book but rather the feelings I had for the characters and their circumstances. Kate Elizabeth Russell truly impressed me with her writing skills. So much in fact that I was invested in the story despite my struggles with the content. I enjoyed the way she both told and showed us the internal conflict Vanessa was dealing with, and even how everything started with her teacher. Kudos for that! It’s not easy to write a book with this type of content and still make it interesting and engaging for readers.
Now, you may be curious as to WHY this book was so hard to absorb especially for me who can read dark books and not even flinch. Well, it’s truly the subject matter. This is a book about a girl who at 15 begins having an affair with her much older teacher. I believe he’s nearly 25 or 30 years older than her. Student teacher romances don’t bother me because I KNOW it’s fiction. But this one skims the lines of truth and we all know it happens, so it was hard for me to basically live through it with Vanessa. Anyway, this ISN’T romance. Rather, it’s a piece of POTENT literally fiction that shows the internal struggle between predator and pray. How did this relationship start? Was Vanessa REALLY a victim or was she not because she allowed it to go on for so long? As I reader, I could see the abuse. And while Vanessa may not have thought this man was abusing and raping her, the internal struggle she had with herself PROVES her to be wrong. It goes to show you how young minds are truly developed and don’t always understand right and wrong (especially when they feel they are being loved when it’s not coming from anywhere else).
Jacob Strane is her teacher. Any reader can see he’s a pedophile preying on young girls and this is palpable throughout the entire book. Quoting Lolita and other books that revolve around the theme of underage girls having sexual relationships with much older men are used to prep his victims, like Vanessa. I certainly saw the parallel between this book and Lolita and thought him using this as a tool to get what he wanted was a good choice on the authors part. Anyway, readers everywhere will hate this man with all their being. It’s his character that caused the disgust to sit in my stomach until the very end.
All that being said (sorry for the rambling, I needed to get all my thoughts out), this is a truly GOOD book but a hard one to take in. It certainly impacted me, and I know I won’t forget it for a long time. Taking in my rambling and long post, it’s ultimately a reader’s choice in terms of if this is a book for them. I’ve pretty much laid out why it’s a tough read and if you can stomach it then I think it’s something you should definitely consider it.
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You can find all the latest book reviews I have posted on the blog! I read various genres depending on my mood so there is a little something for any reader. xox Elle xox