My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell Book Review

Wednesday, 6 May 2020


Title: My Dark Vanessa
Author: Kate Elizabeth Russell
Pages: 384
Publication date: March 10th 2020
Publisher: William Morrow

Trigger warnings; sexual abuse, rape, gaslighing & grooming.

About the book
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?

Review
Usually I write up a review on a book pretty much as soon as I've read it, so that whatever I write is as fresh and raw as it possibly can be. This book was different. It took a couple of days to put together some solid thoughts on this book and there are a few reasons as to why.

I completely underestimated just how dark this book was actually going to be. I'd seen it float around bookstagram for a little while and that's why I decided to pick it up and give it a go, but my god, I wish I'd been more clued up on how unsettling this book actually is. Yes, of course, the title is a dead giveaway and the blurb lets you know the topic at the forefront of the story, yet I was still shocked at just how difficult this book was.

There's absolutely no denying that this is probably one of the hardest books I've ever read. It was an extremely uncomfortable read, but to be completely honest, I think it should be an uncomfortable read. It should make you shudder and it should be hard to digest. I almost had to force myself to continue reading this book and there were parts that are extremely graphic and I had to have a breather and put the book down for a little while.

I can see why the author specifically made a point about how this story is not about herself or anyone she personally knows, it's about the Vanessa's of this world who are confused, betrayed and brainwashed by men like Strane. It's about girls who are struggling to accept that they have been wronged by someone they thought worshipped them. It's about the girls who are victims and yet might not know it or even realise that what they experienced is considered abuse.  

I think the reason this book hit me as hard as it did, was because Vanessa is so real. The author doesn't make her out to be a hero. She doesn't make her perfect. She is in a dead end job that she hates, has a crappy apartment that is constantly messy, and sleeps around to fill a void in her life. It's heartbreaking. I was both equally annoyed on Vanessa's behalf but also wanted her to sort her shit out and do the right thing. I wanted to scream at her that what she was experiencing wasn't love, but once the frustration wore off, I just felt compellingly sad on the character's behalf. 

If there's one thing I could criticise this book for, it's that the last half of the book was a little slower and dragged in parts and the book could have been that little bit shorter.

I can't stress enough how difficult this is to read and "enjoyable" probably isn't the right word to use, but equally, I was completely engrossed in the story and I had to know how things ended for Vanessa. It's a complex story that will make you ask some tough questions; was it love or was it abuse? If there's one thing to take from this book, it's that we live in a heartbreaking and disappointing reality and something has to change. I recommend it to anyone who can handle it, but I absolutely see why it's not for everyone.

Verdict: ★★★★

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