My Dark Vanessa

Kate Elizabeth Russell
Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
Jan 2, 2020

Warning: This book will make you remember things not forgotten.

As a woman and in the wake of the #MeToo movement it was really hard to read My Dark Vanessa. It is very well written and oftentimes, too well written. It was haunting in its realness. Real predators exist. Real victims don't come forward. Real justice oftentimes isn't served.

Vanessa is disturbed by the posts she’s seeing on social media about, Jacob Strane, a teacher she had while attending boarding school roughly 15 years ago. He is accused of inappropriate behavior with young girls. But Vanessa isn’t disturbed in the way that you may think. 

In fact, nothing in this book happens in the way you may think.  

Kate Elizabeth Russell writes in agonizing detail how it feels for Vanessa to be a 15 year old all alone, on her own, away from home at an exclusive boarding school.  How easy it is to hide things from her parents and how alienated she feels. The loneliness she experiences after losing the one friend she had is palpable. And when a teacher starts commenting on her red hair, her sense of style, and her writing assignments, well, things turn from bad to worse.

Jacob Strane finds the loner in class and grooms her to be his Lolita, a book heavily referenced in My Dark Vanessa. It is sickening to watch how easily a 15 year old is caught in his web and how foolishly she thinks she’s in control. Jacob convinces her of lots of things but perhaps the most terrible of all is that he convinces Vanessa that they are in love.

This novel has stayed with me more than any other I’ve read in the last year. I don’t know that it’s a good thing. Sadly, like many many others, I too have been the victim of sexual assault. I keep wanting to dive into the book and help her, to bring her to safety and to therapy and really to help my own 15 year old self. I want to help her report the abuse and the abuser so that he can no longer groom and abuse young girls. But in doing so I wouldn’t be able to save her as she doesn’t feel she’s a victim, and she certainly doesn't feel she needs saving. Worse than that, I don't think she feels she's worth saving. Even while recounting her teenage years and knowing that he took away her childhood, and with it her adulthood, she doesn’t feel there was anything wrong with it because they were both consenting participants.

Much as life doesn’t get all figured out and wrapped up in a neat little bow like a 30 minute sit-com, what you are left with is a heavy heart and a sad soul for all the girls out there who were just like Vanessa. Just as dark. Just as lonely. Just as abused. And just as lost.

Reviewed by Heather C
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