Sometimes you just know a book is going to stick with you long after you read it. My Dark Vanessa is one of those stories that just gets stuck in your mind. I found myself thinking about it several days after reading it. I will be shocked if this doesn’t end up being my favorite book of the year. I have a lot of thoughts so grab a cup of coffee. This is going to be a long one.
2000. Fifteen year old Vanessa Wye longs for adulthood. She feels that she can’t relate to the kids her age. Vanessa finds herself attracting the attention of her charming forty-two year old English teacher, Jacob Strane.
2017. During the wave of sexual allegations brought on by the Me Too movement Strane is accused of sexual assault by another student. She also reaches out and wants Vanessa to share her story. Vanessa is faced with a hard choice. Should she confess or should she stay silent. She strongly believes that she was not sexually abused. She believes that Strane was her first love. Why would she rat out a man who transformed her life and worshiped her? Could the man that she loved be different from what she believed?
I am not sure where to begin, so lets jump in. We start out in 2017 right after the article about Strane is released. The thing the shocked me is that Vanessa is still in contact with Strane. That’s not a spoiler I promise. It is on the first page. They discuss how he is handling the allegations. He asks if she plans to tell and she says no.
The next chapter starts in 2000. We begin to see Vanessa on her first day at Browick Boarding School where she meets Strane for the first time. He is a Harvard graduate and an English teacher. He grabs the attention of Vanessa who loves to write.
The book continues to alternate between timelines. We see the aftermath first and then we get the story build up. Strane starts to flirt with Vanessa. He is subtle enough that she begins to wonder about his intentions. She begins to crave and seek out his attention. As time goes on and a relationship develops we see how manipulative Strane is. At one point he tells Vanessa he doesn’t want to ruin her. He said if they got caught she would be expelled and that Child Protective Services would take her from her parents.
His manipulation is disgusting. There were times I wanted to scream. From my perspective it was easy to see what he was doing, but Vanessa thought he worshiped her. He preyed on a lonely self-conscious girl. He told her so many times how he tried not to love her. He had her convinced that he was brave for loving her. She was honored he put his trust in her.
Eventually, the giddy excitement of the new relationship turns negative. Vanessa starts getting jealous of a female teacher. She is jealous to the point that she reads Strane’s e-mails. Even if you take away the underage aspect their relationship is still toxic and unhealthy. The manipulation and lying continues to show up even in 2017.
My Dark Vanessa is a dark read. It is not an easy read. It deals with topics that are hard to talk about. It could be triggering to certain people so please read triggering warnings before picking it up. It is such a haunting, thought-provoking book. I have never been more impressed by a debut novel. Kate Elizabeth Russell’s talent is astounding. I can’t wait to watch her career grow.
My Rating: 5/5