My Dark Vanessa Reviewed | Definitely Worth the Read

Published: March 10 2020

Pages: 384

Format: eBook (Library Copy)

Tags: Fiction, Contemporary, High School, Realism, Abuse

| Synopsis From the Publisher |

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?

| Book Review |

>The Good<

The Writing: Russell’s story is so dark and twisted and pulls you right in. I chalk this up to solid writing. Everything felt so real, like I was reading a work of non-fiction, rather than fiction. Vanessa could be any woman, could be any teen feeling the confusion and specialness of a teacher’s attention. The moving back and forth from the present to her school days makes the story unfold in an ever-increasing intensity, even though you know how things will unfurl. Just the fact that you know, that each piece of information that is revealed hits you as an “of course, yes,” makes it hit home just how common this kind of sexual harassment/rape is. Vanessa is gaslighted, is manipulated, is played on/preyed on by her teacher and each piece of the puzzle comes together to shape up a very real image of a common problem in the world, even in this day and age.

The Characters: As I said above, Vanessa seems like a real person, someone I could look up and find existing somewhere in America. She is so real, and so is Jacob Strane. I could picture him so easily in my mind – and he creeped me out. Majorly. The dynamic that grows between him and Vanessa is so insidious and terrifying because I could tell where it would lead and my heart broke for Vanessa. This was one of the things that made it very difficult to read.

The portrayal of consent/rape: This book would definitely serve as a major trigger for anyone who has experienced rape/sexual harassment/abuse. Vanessa is a teenager, a minor unable to give consent to what happens to her and her teacher, Mr. Strane, knows this, knows all the tricks in the book to play his cards right to discredit her and to save himself, even as he tries to keep her believe in him, that he’s on her side. It was sickening to read, because I can only imagine that this kind of thing is far too common in real life.

I think Russell does a good job of making the reader uncomfortable throughout the book. Even though Vanessa “consents” to the things that happen between her and Strane, she really isn’t because 1) she’s a minor and 2) Strane takes a lot of time to groom her, to shape her own mind for her and make her feel as if she is the one with the power, when really it’s all just manipulation on his part. Every time they are together, it is rape. It is. And I think Russell is accurate in her portrayal of it as such but through Vanessa’s damaged lens. It’s all very uncomfortable, creepy, and yet you have to keep reading because you want to see where it goes, and if Vanessa will be okay.

>The Bad<

Length: This book is definitely a bit too long. There are many parts that feel repetitive or go over the same themes. The story itself is so well written and conveys the real sense of horror over this relationship, but it goes on for longer than it needs to. I think, though, that as a debut novel, Russell has still done an excellent job and overall the structure of the story is really good.

My Rating

Content: 4/5 Stars

Literary Value: 4/5 Stars

Entertainment Factor: 4/5

Cover: 4/5

Total Score: 4/5 Stars!


Definitely Worth the Read

This book was by no means “fun” to read. As far as being entertained goes, it captures your attention in the way that it’s hard to look away from a train wreck. You feel drawn to Vanessa and her plight, but what keeps you is the need to see that she can make it out okay, that she can find stability and comfort in her life. Russell’s prose is dark and ethereal in places, and utterly frank in others. Vanessa is so real, her character has so much depth, as does Strane. They stand out in this book and are the crux of the whole thing.

This book is dark and it feels icky to read, but I think its the kind of book that brings up important points of discussion, like rape, consent, and the lack of support that women and girls find in these situations that is all to prevalent in this society. There were so many adults in Vanessa’s life that could have and should have stood up for her, have fought to get to the truth, but they didn’t, they let things pass. And this book made me mad because I know that this happens all to often for real. So despite this book making me uncomfortable, it seems an important piece of literature, one that addresses thee #metoo movement, and how this kind of thing is being handled even now.

I would definitely recommend it, as a point of starting discussions of maybe looking to change how things are through awareness.

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