My Dark Vanessa
Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.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?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.

My Dark Vanessa Details

TitleMy Dark Vanessa
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMar 10th, 2020
PublisherWilliam Morrow
ISBN-139780062941503
Rating
GenreFiction, Contemporary, Thriller, Adult Fiction, Adult, Mystery Thriller, Literary Fiction, Young Adult, Coming Of Age, Health, Mental Health, Sociology, Abuse

My Dark Vanessa Review

  • Will Byrnes
    January 1, 1970
    Come and be worshipped, come and be caressed. My Dark Vanessa, crimson-barred, my blest My Admirable butterfly! Explain How could you, in the gloam of Lilac Lane,Have let uncouth, hysterical John ShadeBlubber your face, and ear, and shoulder blade? - From the poem Pale Fire by NabakovVanessa Wye is thirty-two years old, working a dead-end hotel job in Portland, Maine, and attending grief-counseling therapy following the death of her father. She cannot move on with her life. I suppose many of Come and be worshipped, come and be caressed. My Dark Vanessa, crimson-barred, my blest My Admirable butterfly! Explain How could you, in the gloam of Lilac Lane,Have let uncouth, hysterical John ShadeBlubber your face, and ear, and shoulder blade? - From the poem Pale Fire by NabakovVanessa Wye is thirty-two years old, working a dead-end hotel job in Portland, Maine, and attending grief-counseling therapy following the death of her father. She cannot move on with her life. I suppose many of us have faced similar straits, the relationship that keeps its claws embedded long after the real connection has gone. What’s different is that Vanessa’s big romance began when she was a fifteen-year-old at a prep school, and it was with a forty-something English teacher. Recently contacted by a young woman who is reviving her charges of misconduct against the same teacher, wanting Vanessa to talk about what had happened to her, Vanessa’s recollections of her experience come to the fore, helped along in her therapy.Kate Elizabeth Russell - image from Split Lip MagazineWe all think, or at least hope, that we are special, and are naturally drawn to people who appear to recognize our particular specialness. But even with that, this looks like an easy call, an adult taking advantage of a child in his charge. End of story. But that is not the story Kate Elizabeth Russell is telling. Based on her personal experiences as a teen in relationships with older men, Russell asks where victimhood ends and agency begins. She wonders about the arbitrariness of age specifications for statutory rape definitions. Do all girls, do all people, mature at the same rate? Is it not possible for there to be a fifteen-year-old with the capacity to decide for herself when to become sexually active and with whom? We get Vanessa’s first-person telling, and her take on Jacob Strane, forty-five when he meets her at The Browick School, in Norumbega, Maine, in 2000. It wasn’t about how young I was, not for him. Above everything else, he loved my mind. He said I had a genius-level emotional intelligence and that I wrote like a prodigy, that he could talk to me, confide in me. Lurking deep within me, he said, was a dark romanticism, the same kind he saw within himself. No one had understood that dark part of him until I came along. If you are rolling your eyes and muttering puh-leez, you are not alone. If it sounds to you like a pervy pedophile has gotten inside an unprepared kid’s head, well, I’m right there with you. The question is not whether Strane is a manipulative, predatory creep. He clearly is. But there may be more to him. At least through Vanessa’s eyes. One can argue that an older man may be an appropriate partner for Vanessa as long as it is her choice. Our society has clearly taken the position that a fifteen-year-old is not mature enough to make that choice. (the age of consent in all 50 US states is 16 or higher) But are there any circumstances under which it is ok for Strane to be using his classroom as a recruiting venue for young stuff? Even setting aside the institutional power imbalance, are there any circumstance in which it is ok for a 45M to be seeing a 15F? This is the tension in the novel. Victimization versus agency. Pawn versus power. Where should those lines be drawn and who gets a say in their location? The story moves back and forth between Vanessa’s past and present, noting her growing interest in this man and his methodology for seducing her. He uses an array of authors, summoning Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Milay, Jonathan Swift, Robert Frost, and more from our literary pantheon, to both enlighten his student and soften up his target. Of course Lolita is a part of this. I carry his books with me, reading them whenever I can, every spare few minutes and through every meal. I start to realize the point isn’t really whether I like the books or not; it’s more about him giving me different lenses to see myself through. The poems are clues to help me understand why he’s so interested, what it is exactly that he sees in me. It also moves back and forth between showing Strane’s clear manipulation of Vanessa, and a realization that in her newfound sexuality she has a say. I have power. Power to make it happen. Power over him. I was an idiot for not realizing this sooner. There are many literary references sprinkled throughout the book, noting some obvious and not so obvious writing of a sexual nature. Strane also uses his English class lectures to point out elements of his relationship with Vanessa in a way that is obvious to her but opaque to the rest of the class. A class discussion of blame in Ethan Frome, for example, is clearly intended for his special student.Vanessa sees a definite benefit in dating older men and approaches this clear-eyed. …I wasn’t pretty, I’d have to wait a long time before anyone noticed me because boys had to mature before they cared about anything else. In the meantime, apparently my only option was to wait. Like girls sitting in the bleachers at basketball games watching boys play, or girls sitting on the couch watching boys play video games. Endless waiting. It’s funny to think how wrong Mom was about all that. Because there’s another option for those brave enough to take it—bypass boys altogether, go straight to men. Men will never make you wait, men who are starved and grateful for scraps of attention, who fall in love so hard they throw themselves at your feet. But there is one more element here that adds some depth to Vanessa’s situation. V’s freshman year roomie was one Jenny Murphy. They had become very close, until Jenny got a boyfriend and became unavailable. I wonder how it’s possible that I once felt so much for her, yearned to be closer even as I slept beside her in the same small room, our bodies three feet apart. I think of her navy blue bathrobe hanging on the back of the door, the little boxes of raisins wrapped in cellophane that sat on the shelf above her desk, how she smeared lilac-scented lotion on her legs at night, the wet spots on her t-shirt from her freshly washed hair. Sometimes she binged on microwave pizzas, the shame pulsing out of her as she ate. I had noticed everything about her, every single thing she did, but why? What was it about her? Uh huh. Sounds like V had had more than a bit of a crush on J. It is not until after they break up, when they are sophomores, that the antics with Brane commence. Rebound, anyone?Russell clearly does not line up directly with the current torrent of sexual predation exposure that has become a daily part of our news feed. The book has evolved gradually, of course, but took on a whole new meaning as the #MeToo movement gained steam last year. It forced Russell to not only reevaluate her characters’ journeys — an accusation plot-line had been moved to the center — but also her own experiences. “I remember a point where I was scrolling through Twitter, seeing friends and strangers putting these stories of violence and abuse out in the world, harrowing, horrible things, and all we could do for each other was reply with heart emojis,” she says. “In a way, it just seemed to highlight our powerlessness. As the movement evolved, the way all this trauma was churned through the Internet Content Machine started to feel perverse.” She continues: “I ended up feeling rather alienated from #MeToo as a whole — despite it being directly connected to my novel, my life’s work — and I used that sense of alienation to fine-tune Vanessa’s character and shape the novel’s central conflict.” - from the EW interviewV is excited as a teen, but has clearly been damaged by the relationship, as her inability to move on with her life attests. Is the narration of any fifteen-year-old reliable? Does the appeal of the new and exciting through young eyes disguise a tawdry case of sexual abuse? Is the teenager’s feeling of power anything more than a self-delusional justification for having gotten into something she really cannot handle, an excuse for the powerlessness she ultimately experiences? Was her relationship with Strane one of equals, ultimately? Even after there is a break in their connection, it is Vanessa who keeps getting in touch with Strane. Is that the behavior of a victim? What does the thirty-two-year-old Vanessa see when she looks back? Is the older Vanessa a more reliable narrator than her younger version? Clearly this book is the stuff of book club dreams, as there is so much material that is politically contemporary and personally raw. It gently mines the considerable literary lode that deals in April-December romance. In addition, the book, while keeping the story real and moving, steps back from time to time to note real-world implications that tend to slip under the radar. On the drive home the car lurches over frost heaves and through potholes, an endless wall of pitch black woods on either side. The radio plays hits from the seventies and eighties, Dad tapping the steering wheel along to “My Sharona” while Mom sleeps, her head leaning against the window. Such a dirty mind. I always get it up for the touch of the younger kind. I watch his fingers tap to the beat as the chorus comes round again. Does he even hear what the song is about, what he’s humming along to? If you are thinking that My Dark Vanessa constitutes a 21st century Lolita; if you are thinking that My Dark Vanessa is an engaging, challenging look at a subject that affects large numbers of women; if you are thinking that My Dark Vanessa is a moving story written by a new novelist, but with the literary skill of a veteran; if you are thinking that My Dark Vanessa has already earned a place on the list of best books of 2020; and if you are thinking that My Dark Vanessa, pending the release of other outstanding 2020 fiction of course, might just possibly be the best novel of 2020, well you are not alone, because, ya know, me too. “I never would have done it if you weren’t so willing,” he’d said. It sounds like delusion. What girl would want what he did to me? But it’s the truth, whether anyone believes it or not. Driven toward it, driven toward him, I was the kind of girl that isn’t supposed to exist: one eager to hurl herself into the path of a pedophile. But no, that word isn’t right, never has been. It’s a cop-out, a lie in the way it’s wrong to call me a victim and nothing more. He was never so simple; neither was I. Review posted – June 28, 2019Publication date – January 28, 2020=============================EXTRA STUFFLinks to the author’s personal and Twitter pagesInterviews-----Library Love Fest -Editors Unedited: Editor Jessica Williams in Conversation with Author Kate Elizabeth Russell - audio - 32:20-----Entertainment Weekly - My Dark Vanessa: Why this Lolita for the #MeToo era is the season’s biggest-selling debut - by David Canfield – this one tooItems of Interest-----Mountains - an excerpt from an early version of the novel-----Split Lip Magazine - The Second One in Five Parts - short story by KER-----KER’s Twitter handle is a sly Nabakovian referenceReferenced Literature-----My Sharona - you might want to throw things, or wash, after watching this with some new appreciation-----Left Alone - by Fiona Apple – ok, the song is not specified in the book, but Fiona Apple is-----Birches by Robert Frost – Just what might this be about?-----Lolita - by Vladimir Nabakov – public library of India-----Ditto as a PDF
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  • Elyse (retired from reviewing/semi hiatus) Walters
    January 1, 1970
    Year: 2000Vanessa, 15 years of age, grew up in a quiet small town in Maine - on Whalesback Lake. She attended Browick High School - a boarding school...couple hours away from her home. Too young to drive- her mother usually drove her to school and picked her back up to come home during holiday breaks. Early in the book I wondered if Vanessa’s mother had serious reasons to worry about her daughter’s basic state of well-being...or if the mother was just being a typical mom. ( “make some friends”, Year: 2000Vanessa, 15 years of age, grew up in a quiet small town in Maine - on Whalesback Lake. She attended Browick High School - a boarding school...couple hours away from her home. Too young to drive- her mother usually drove her to school and picked her back up to come home during holiday breaks. Early in the book I wondered if Vanessa’s mother had serious reasons to worry about her daughter’s basic state of well-being...or if the mother was just being a typical mom. ( “make some friends”, yada, yada).As a mother - I was sure the mother saw red-flag signs that her daughter was hurting inside. But... mom didn’t do anything. What could she do?“Just make friends”, mom tells her daughter. One morning, Vanessa walked through campus several times trying to calm herself. It was early September....Most students noticed the beautiful surroundings - the colorful mountains and colorful maple leaves - groups of students sat outside together - studying- laughing - socializing. Vanessa was ‘feeling restless’.... ...unsatisfied.... alone and disconnected from other students.I could feel her anxiety- how uncomfortable she felt in her own skin. Vanessa couldn’t find a place to put ‘herself’. The library was too dark. Her dorm room was too depressing.Every place she walked seemed to be crowded with people studying in groups, highlighting how very alone, Vanessa felt. Vanessa ‘forced’ herself to stop - sit down - at a grassy slope behind the humanities building to calm herself. “Breathe”... she tells herself. So with ‘already’ being on edge, (depressed really),....Vanessa sits down - leans against a tree, reaches into her backpack to pull out her spiral notebook to begin working on a pome she’s writing.....Footsteps were soon approaching....Mr. Strane noticed Vanessa from above- looking out his window. He came to join her. Vanessa was reading a poem that she was working on (interesting her poem was about a girl ‘strapped’ on an island)....I could feel how critical Vanessa was of her work, her writing, and of herself. Self-esteem was at an all-time low. Mr. Strane notices Vanessa’s red-rimmed eyes and says: “You’re Upset”...“Can I ask what’s upsetting you?”. Vanessa thinks her problems are too big to explain.Frustrated Vanessa tells Mr. Strane that her poem is bad, and that she can’t even pick a study spot without exhausting herself.She tries to share how dark she feels. Mr. Strane is intensely listening. Vanessa was seriously fearful that she could never fix herself. I wanted her to call her mom!!! Maybe with Mr. Strane’s help, acknowledgment, extra attention to her.... Vanessa could begin to feel stronger and more confident? Maybe Vanessa’s fixation on Mr. Strane- Harvard graduate- passionate about literature - might be a positive mentor for her?Ha...we don’t fool easy. At 15... away from home at a boarding school... what stood out to me was how painfully alone and vulnerable Vanessa was. I wanted somebody to help her - really help her.As the reader.... we are cringing - witnessing the rabbit hole Vanessa is about to fall through. As painful as it was to know what was coming -a disturbing - inappropriate entanglement between a 15 year old impressionable girl and a 42 year old teacher - A story as old as ever....I couldn’t pull myself away from this book!The writing/ storytelling is seductively addictive and gripping. Honestly ‘the best’ ( call it what you want- MeToo?) novel - I’ve ever read!!! I just know - this novel gets soooo inside your own skin!!!In another scene, Mr. Strane says to Vanessa:I think we’re very similar, Nessa, he whispers. I can tell from the way you write that you’re a dark romantic like me. You like dark things”. “Shielded by the desk, he reaches down and pats my knee gently, gingerly, the way you might a dog before you’re sure it won’t turn mean and bite you. I don’t bite him. I don’t move. I don’t even breathe. He keeps writing notes on the poem while his other hand strokes my knee and my mind slips out of me”. Year 2017:Vanessa Wye is 32 years of age. She meets Jacob Strane, in a coffee shop. It’s been five years since the last time she’d seen him. Seventeen years since she was his student/‘girl-thing’. When Vanessa first sees Strane again...years later..she feels the same way she did when she was 15 - and he was 42. ( attraction) Throwing her arms around the much older Strane, when they catch up....he had that same coffee and chalk dust smell he did when she was his student. Jacob Strand was accused of sexually abusing a former student. It’s posted all over Facebook. At first Vanessa defends Strane. She believes that she willingly engaged in a relationship with him. Vanessa believed that she and Mr. Strane had a ‘special’ relationship.They still connected with each other by phone - well into her adulthood. This book is impossible to put down. I gave up the outdoors - summer daylight hours in exchange for being an addictive-daytime reading-couch-potato.I felt a pull - an urgency - an importance - to marathon read this book! I want to scream to other readers - “this is sooooooo GOOD... a MUST READ”...which it is ... ITS REALLY GOOD and WORTHY of being called a BUZZ BOOK....But... ‘really good’, are not really the right words to describe our feelings about the book’s complexities.The novel’s achievement is *deeply affecting*.... *genuinely and significantly**emotionally wrenching* yet *intellectually rigorous*. ‘Stephen King’ said, this novel is:“A well-constructed package of *dynamite*”. ABSOLUTELY!!!Is the difference between rape and sex a state of mind? You can’t rape the willing, right?”Or???Kate Elizabeth Russell’s writing is engrossing......fragile......brittle......sharp....and ...pulsing!The characters she creates are so hauntingly real!!! When young girls, or women, love their abuser... excuses made for them are outrageous, but they’re nothing compared with the excuses made about themselves. If this book doesn’t have you looking at sexual abusers vs. sexual consent in new ways ...then I’ll eat my hat. Big thanks to HarperCollinsPublishing for an advance copy of this extraordinary novel...(released in January, 2020)Powerful... powerful...powerful!!!! “Out of ashI rise with my red hairAnd I eat men like air”... from the book “Ariel”, by Sylvia Plath
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  • Paromjit
    January 1, 1970
    My Dark Vanessa is a dark, deeply disturbing and unsettling novel that captures the zeitgeist of our contemporary realities of the #MeToo movement, looking at the complexities and emotional repercussions of a 'love' affair between a lonely schoolgirl, anxious, suffering the loss of her closest friend, with self esteem issues, desperate for attention, with a much older, manipulative and predatory male who zeroes in on her vulnerabilities. This uncomfortable book examines the psychological and My Dark Vanessa is a dark, deeply disturbing and unsettling novel that captures the zeitgeist of our contemporary realities of the #MeToo movement, looking at the complexities and emotional repercussions of a 'love' affair between a lonely schoolgirl, anxious, suffering the loss of her closest friend, with self esteem issues, desperate for attention, with a much older, manipulative and predatory male who zeroes in on her vulnerabilities. This uncomfortable book examines the psychological and sexual anatomy of a relationship between 15 year old Vanessa Wye and her 45 year old English teacher, Jacob Strane, how it all began, and his prophetic words that he will 'ruin' her. At 32 years old, Vanessa is seeing a therapist to deal with her grief over the loss of her father, working in a dead end hotel job, and Strane is having to deal with the fallout of a former student, Taylor Birch, having gone public with allegations of abuse. He needs to know that he has nothing to worry about from Vanessa. She reassures him, despite feeling the pressures of a climate to be honest about male behaviours and attitudes.In a narrative that goes back and forth in time, we see that Vanessa's relationship with Strane is the axiomatic and pivotal one of her life, she has never got over him, he has been her obsession but what is the nature of the ties that bind her to him so irrevocably? She is herself not certain of who they were in the past, what exactly happened and what they are now, her memories are confused, fractured and questionable when it comes to reliability. She has invested so much of who she is in him and she has to believe it was love, if she begins to question this, her sense of self, her identity, threatens to splinter apart. She feels the outside world is too quick to judge, and fails to appreciate that feelings, sex and love cannot be compartmentalised and categorised so rigidly according to society's norms, humanity is far more complicated and flawed. She has power, control, and desires, she chose Strane, she is no victim, she is the love of his life, special and irreplaceable. But what if she hasn't seen him clearly? What if she is one of many girls targeted by Strane?Strane abuses his position of influence to groom young, naive, susceptible school girls, the nightmare of every parent, using the panoply of literary greats in his arsenal of weapons against the immature young girl, a history of writers who had relationships with young girls. A literary chorus (all men) of precedents, approval and support from history and the arts to legitimise Strane's darker desires for young female flesh and the wider communities complicity in this widespread practice. This includes the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Frost, and Nabokov's Pale Fire, his references to 'My Dark Vanessa', and Lolita is, of course, central, all adding their weight to the inevitability and righteousness of Vanessa and Strane's unconventional dark 'romantic' relationship, particularly in Vanessa's malleable mind. Strane gaslights with no qualms, his rewriting of their personal history, of how Vanessa had control, equal power and green lit every step of their relationship, are critical self serving and self protective strategies. This is a challenging read, I had to make myself finish the book, but it is thought provoking in its portrayal of one of the burning issues of our day. I have no doubts this is a book that it is going to be huge on publication. Highly recommended. Many thanks to HarperCollins 4th Estate for an ARC.
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  • Kim ~ It’s All About the Thrill
    January 1, 1970
    I completely underestimated how dark this book was actually going to be. Clearly the title is an indicator. If you didn't catch on from the title, well there is a sensational book description that makes it clear what the subject matter was going to be. Yet....I was still deeply disturbed by what I was reading. I can't stress how dark, disturbing and difficult this was to read. That being said, I could not put this down. I am not even sure I can muster the words to give this book the review that I completely underestimated how dark this book was actually going to be. Clearly the title is an indicator. If you didn't catch on from the title, well there is a sensational book description that makes it clear what the subject matter was going to be. Yet....I was still deeply disturbed by what I was reading. I can't stress how dark, disturbing and difficult this was to read. That being said, I could not put this down. I am not even sure I can muster the words to give this book the review that it deserves. It was just that powerful. After reading this, I can see why the author specifically stated that this is not a story about herself, or anyone that she personally knows for that matter. It is just about all the girls like Vanessa in the world. I have decided the reason this book was so incredibly hard to read is because it is so real. Somehow this debut author has managed to make Vanessa so damn real that you would swear she was writing her own story. You would swear Vanessa was typing her story furiously onto the pages, perhaps in a diary. With the whole "me too" movement we have heard many different voices. Yet this story managed to floor me. It was from Vanessa's point of view, that she was not a victim. That she had chosen to get into a relationship with her English instructor Jacob Strane. I had never given this consideration that the victim would not realize they were the victim. She was clearly the victim of this vile, disgusting man that used his power and position to lure Vanessa in. What if the victim doesn't realize it? She sees it as a "love story." She thinks he is kind and caring, impressed that he would take the time to notice her- that she is special.My emotions were all over the place reading this. This invoked such an array of feelings in me. I was distraught, disgusted, angry and sad. Being a 15 year girl many years ago, I can see how Vanessa was realizing that she had a power over men. How she was just discovering that she could make them look her way. Some of the details are so graphic I considered putting down the book and taking a break from it as I felt I really couldn't endure any more of it. Except I couldn't put it down. I had to know how this ended for Vanessa. I very rarely get this emotionally involved in a book, but this one destroyed me. That being said- it is a must read! It will be hard to read the graphic details, but it is hard because you know this is the truth. This is what is happening to girls like Vanessa every day. The author spun a story that so uniquely shows a glimpse into the victim's mind. A victim that doesn't even realize she is a victim or is she just telling herself that to protect herself?Thank you so much to Harper Collins/ William Morrow for this advance copy via Edelweiss
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  • Karen
    January 1, 1970
    Absolutely 5 stars!This story goes back and forth in time from when Vanessa started attending a boarding school at 15 years of age and has a relationship with her 42 year old English teacher and in her later years when she is a 32 year old adult.Vanessa had a dark side, kept to herself.. quite a solitary personality. Her teacher paid her a lot of attention and complimented her and loaned out his favorite books to her etc.. she actually started seeking him out, felt special and felt powerful over Absolutely 5 stars!This story goes back and forth in time from when Vanessa started attending a boarding school at 15 years of age and has a relationship with her 42 year old English teacher and in her later years when she is a 32 year old adult.Vanessa had a dark side, kept to herself.. quite a solitary personality. Her teacher paid her a lot of attention and complimented her and loaned out his favorite books to her etc.. she actually started seeking him out, felt special and felt powerful over his reactions to her. Then a sexual relationship started.At the time she is 32, the Me Too movement is all over the news..some other women have also accused this teacher, whom she has kept in touch with and who consumes her entire life.. she’s always considered this a real relationship.. love.. she loved him, felt he loved/loves her.This is a story that brings up a lot of questions about victimhood, consent....I can just imagine the intense discussions that may come out of a group read of this book.Anyway.. this was powerful, raw, and intense read.Thankful to William Morrow Books and Kate Elizabeth Russell for the advance reader’s edition that I won from a sweepstakes!
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  • Michelle
    January 1, 1970
    This is one of the most horrific books I have ever read. Truly disturbing. I had read and loved Putney last year so I was very much looking forward to this - how weird is that to say considering the subject matter? I'll admit I couldn't read this one straight through. My brain needed to take breaks. I think it's because the depictions of abuse are descriptive and explicit at times and my stomach would lurch at the imagery. This story is about Vanessa a 15 year old girl who attends boarding This is one of the most horrific books I have ever read. Truly disturbing. I had read and loved Putney last year so I was very much looking forward to this - how weird is that to say considering the subject matter? I'll admit I couldn't read this one straight through. My brain needed to take breaks. I think it's because the depictions of abuse are descriptive and explicit at times and my stomach would lurch at the imagery. This story is about Vanessa a 15 year old girl who attends boarding school and begins an affair with her 42 year old English teacher. The affair lasts until she is 21 years old. Too old for him to be attracted to her anymore. We see how this relationship nearly destroys her. Yet, all the while she is quick to defend him and their relationship. Even after several girls come forward also accusing him of abuse. Vanessa doesn't believe these other women as he only had eyes for her. She was his one true love. She felt as if they were two dark spirits brought together. Fate. "When Strane and I met, I was fifteen and he was 42, a near perfect 30 years between us. That's how I described the difference back then - perfect. I love the math of it, three times my age, how easy it was to imagine three of me fitting inside him: one curled around his brain, another around his heart, the third turned to liquid and sliding through his veins." Strane is well aware that what he is doing is wrong yet he can't control his urges. He is a master manipulator and it was infuriating to witness. He even tells her from the very beginning: "I'm going to ruin you." Vanessa feels like it's her fault that he is the way he is. She was too irresistible to him and she knew it. She acted in ways that didn't give him a choice. She feels as if she is the spider that lured him to her web when it was actually the other way around. I've been a bad, bad girlI've been careless with a delicate manAnd it's a sad, sad worldWhen a girl will break a boyJust because she canDon't you tell me to deny itI've done wrong and I wanna suffer for my sinsI've come to you cause I need guidance to be trueAnd I just don't know where I can beginWhat I need is a good defenseCause I'm feelin' like a criminalAnd I need to be redeemedTo the one I've sinned againstBecause he's all I ever knew of love ~ Fiona Apple ~ Criminal Vanessa often references how similar her life is to that of this song above and it truly is fitting to her. She thinks she's the one with the power. So little does she know.....The writing is absolutely superb from beginning to end. Kate Elizabeth Russell has a dazzling future ahead of her and I can't wait to read more. 5 stars! Thank you to Edelweiss and William Morrow for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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  • Emer (A Little Haze)
    January 1, 1970
    I am blown away by the powerful nature of this novel. This is one of the best written books I have read in years. Be warned, this book deals with dark subject matter, that of child grooming and protracted sexual abuse. 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 I am blown away by the powerful nature of this novel. This is one of the best written books I have read in years. Be warned, this book deals with dark subject matter, that of child grooming and protracted sexual abuse. 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? But this book is necessary. This book truly gets inside the mind of the victim, Vanessa, and shows... It shows how she thinks she lived the love story of our times but was in fact the victim of the most predatory of men and it is heartbreaking. To see the workings of her mind as we go from fifteen year old youthful exuberance to a broken thirty something... The book alternates between Vanessa's past and her present as she unravels more of what happened to her. The book shows how she misremembered things and how that as a reader we can see the manipulation that occurred but then we get to see her perspective. And how she has this view of the world because of the insidious grooming that took place. And the grooming... Oh gosh it's horrible. As a reader you just want to scream and shout and ask why is no one doing anything. There was all this rumour and then evidence... And the world looked away... But all the while Vanessa is a child. And Mr Strane is three times her age...This book is so painful. This book is an indictment on how completely lax and complicit we have been as a society. It is an indictment on how we have terms and sayings like it's not "rape rape" if there was perceived consent because she was a slut or nymphet type character, or if her body orgasmed then how could it be rape??Rape is rape but this book dares to show up the darkest and most troubling belief's of society and makes us uncomfortable for having those societal beliefs. This book left me broken. It left me angry, frustrated... I want to scream from the top of my lungs about consent and what it truly means. I want to scream where was the protection for this child. How was she left singularly under this man's control. But I also love how this dares to ask questions about the agency of the victim. About how in this era it is somewhat expected that they reveal their stories to the world at large. How if one person comes forward that was a victim of a particular sexual perpetrator, other victims are again shamed and blamed if they too don't come forward. It asks to whom does the narrative belong to? Can a victim truly be sympathised with and respected if they wish to stay quiet? If they wish to live as normal a life as they can.And that to me is where this novel is brilliant. It exposes the tabloid nature of the modern era and instead asks us to always respect the victim and their agency over the narrative of their experience. And also to respect that because of the insidiousness of sexual abuse that these people, are not always able to see things as black and white. That consent to them is greyed because inherently no one wants to be seen as a victim. Everyone wants to be seen as strong and powerful. Of always being in charge... And this is portrayed in this novel as how the sexual predator always used gas-lighting techniques and honeyed words to groom his victim into thinking he was a helpless man that couldn't resist her nymphet charms. And Vanessa believed that. Even when she was being raped she believed it was sex, that it was nice, that he asked her if it was okay... even though he had already removed her underwear, was already engaging in oral sex with her, was already thrusting into her... he repeatedly told her it was nice and he said she was okay... Fair warning, this book is graphic in detail. But not in some gratuitous manner. It all feels necessary and integral to exploring Vanessa's mindset and how she was groomed. This book has already been praised by so many:‘Challenging and uncompromising, My Dark Vanessa is the book everyone will be talking about in 2020’ Louise O’Neill, author of Asking For It'A hard story to read and a harder one to put down … a package of dynamite’ Stephen King ‘Riveting and compulsive, My Dark Vanessa unsettles with every sentence. A novel that asks urgent questions and refuses easy answers’ Elizabeth Day, author of The Party ‘Unsettling, compulsive and deeply thought provoking. Extremely well done’ Harriet Tyce, author of Blood Orange ‘Gripping, dark, prescient and searing in its emotional honesty, My Dark Vanessa is a must read of the year’ Sarah Pinborough, author of Behind Her Eyes and Cross Her Heart 'My Dark Vanessa destroyed me. Gripping, stunningly written, and important—I’ve been waiting for this book’ Julie Buntin, author of MarlenaAnd I fully echo all these sentiments. The hype is real. This is the book that we need. That this book, although uncomfortable, truly gives voice to victims of sexual abuse and very much opens up the conversation about consent and agency over the narrative of a victim's life story. five stars. *I was invited to read an e-copy of this book by the publisher, Harper Collins UK: 4th Estate, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*Expected publication: January 23rd 2020 For more reviews and book related chat check out my blog
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  • Chelsea Humphrey
    January 1, 1970
    Me, getting jazzed up to read this book, even though the content is polarizing:*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my review copy.
  • Tammy
    January 1, 1970
    A tense and intense novel. While this is about the sexual abuse of a fifteen year old student by her forty-ish teacher, it’s also about agency, victimization and complicity. The dark Vanessa of the title is groomed, made to feel special, and mistakes abuse for love. Yet, she was in love with a creepy, manipulative pedophile. Vanessa tells her story by moving back and forth between being fifteen years old, through portions of her twenties and into her thirties. When her abuser is “outted” she is A tense and intense novel. While this is about the sexual abuse of a fifteen year old student by her forty-ish teacher, it’s also about agency, victimization and complicity. The dark Vanessa of the title is groomed, made to feel special, and mistakes abuse for love. Yet, she was in love with a creepy, manipulative pedophile. Vanessa tells her story by moving back and forth between being fifteen years old, through portions of her twenties and into her thirties. When her abuser is “outted” she is forced to grapple with her complex emotions about the “relationship” and the damage that was done to her. The material is dark, disturbing, literary, and sophisticated. It certainly doesn’t read like a debut and will most certainly be a bestseller.
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  • sue
    January 1, 1970
    I just need to give this 5* for so many reasons.It’s a disturbing unsettling read, but it’s also completely compulsive.It’s a topic that is both daunting and happens although this is a fiction novel.A taboo subject that messes with your head.A teacher perverted who messes with a 15 year olds head.Vanessa hasn’t many friends, she seems lonely at times (to me)A start of her teacher “grooming” Vanessa sent the hair on the back of my neck up on end.What was twisted was the “affair”. When she finds I just need to give this 5* for so many reasons.It’s a disturbing unsettling read, but it’s also completely compulsive.It’s a topic that is both daunting and happens although this is a fiction novel.A taboo subject that messes with your head.A teacher perverted who messes with a 15 year olds head.Vanessa hasn’t many friends, she seems lonely at times (to me)A start of her teacher “grooming” Vanessa sent the hair on the back of my neck up on end.What was twisted was the “affair”. When she finds out others had been ‘approached ‘ by him too, that was wrong, in Vanessas eyes, but her relationship with him (again in her eyes) was different, he cared about her, it was love, he loved her.It 𝖎𝖘 unsettling, you can easily see what’s going on and I wanted to call him out.Report him. Challenge him. Punish him and protect Vanessa.How did she equate in her mind that he could do this?Because he loved her.Yet, sometimes he repulsed her.There are so many sides, views, aspects and divisions of this story that on the last page you will sit and reflect on what you’ve just read. I’m sure you will.This is such a well written book, it tackles this so well all the mindsets were interesting as I could see that although some things were plain and simple to me, to others, we view things differently.Will he be brought to account?Will Vanessa view what he did as abuse etc ?This is released in January 2020 and I for one just 𝓱𝓪𝓭 to read it.
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  • Ceecee
    January 1, 1970
    Gosh. This is a debut? What an accomplished one, as Kate Russell takes the reader on a very difficult journey focusing on what happens to Vanessa Wye. The story starts when Vanessa is 32 and a hotel concierge in Portland, Maine when the story breaks via Facebook of Taylor Birch and Jacob Strane and the goes backwards and forwards in time as Vanessa tells her story with Jacob. When she was 15 she goes to Browick boarding school where she meets Strane who is her 45 year old English teacher, as he Gosh. This is a debut? What an accomplished one, as Kate Russell takes the reader on a very difficult journey focusing on what happens to Vanessa Wye. The story starts when Vanessa is 32 and a hotel concierge in Portland, Maine when the story breaks via Facebook of Taylor Birch and Jacob Strane and the goes backwards and forwards in time as Vanessa tells her story with Jacob. When she was 15 she goes to Browick boarding school where she meets Strane who is her 45 year old English teacher, as he was later on for Taylor at the same school. To say that Strane teaches differently is an understatement and his style certainly wouldn’t met the approval of parents. He swears, he can be harsh, abusive even but then he can be encouraging. Vanessa is very smart but lazy and unmotivated but with the help of Strane she shows a real talent for poetry and literature. Strane grooms Vanessa in a variety of ways , including literature especially Lolita by Nabokov which recurs throughout the book. He is creepy and predatory and he is able to so so because Vanessa is a loner, a misfit and he draws her in hook, line and sinker. This is not an easy read but as she becomes his ‘dark Vanessa’ what unravels is unbelievably sad, at times sickening and at others deeply moving. There is so much in this book to praise. It is gripping and very well written. I love the literature references which binds the two of them together. You despair at the control and manipulation that Strane experts over Vanessa as other revelations about him emerge. He frightens her to shut her up. The descriptions of their ‘relationship’ are very powerful as her body goes somewhere her mind doesn’t want to. There are some devastatingly insightful sentences about her and him and how he has to be old for her to feel young and beautiful. He ruins her and her life stalls as she is unable to have a normal relationship, which is so sad. Overall, this book looks at Me Too slightly differently as Vanessa does not and will not, see that Strane abuses her as he does others claiming that he loves her but that’s how she survives and it also shows how victims can become stuck in time. Highly recommended.Thank you to NetGalley and 4th Estate and William Collins for the ARC.
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  • Kendall
    January 1, 1970
    WOW.... I feel haunted.My Dark Vanessa is extremely compelling, raw, disturbing, and heartbreaking. Russell is quite the masterful storyteller. I felt like I was in a trance reading her words. Welcome to Vanessa... let her show you her dark world. I was seeing so many 5 star reviews for this novel and knew I had to experience the darkness myself. My Dark Vanessa explores a story of a women who has been victimized by her teacher her entire life from the start of age 15 to present day at 32. I WOW.... I feel haunted.My Dark Vanessa is extremely compelling, raw, disturbing, and heartbreaking. Russell is quite the masterful storyteller. I felt like I was in a trance reading her words. Welcome to Vanessa... let her show you her dark world. I was seeing so many 5 star reviews for this novel and knew I had to experience the darkness myself. My Dark Vanessa explores a story of a women who has been victimized by her teacher her entire life from the start of age 15 to present day at 32. I have to say for some reason I was expecting this to go a different way then what I initially had expected. Vanessa's thoughts, reality, and outlook on life hit you right in the gut... you can't look away and leaves you feeling with an awful pit in your stomach. We watch Vanessa's world fall apart by the hands of a disgusting paedophile.4 stars This book will leave a mark on your soul and is deeply important and powerful.Thank you to Edelweiss and William Morrow for the arc in exchange for an honest review.Publication date: 1/23/20Published to GR: 10/27/19
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  • Jessica Woodbury
    January 1, 1970
    When a book is particularly buzzy I start to get grumpy. Too much buzz is not always a good thing and I've been disappointed many times. In addition to that, for the last few years we've been subjected to all kinds of books being branded as #MeToo books because it's become a (very depressing) marketing strategy. So I approached MY DARK VANESSA, a buzzy #MeToo book, with caution. So imagine my surprise when I found that it was not only good but nuanced and interesting. While the ability to openly When a book is particularly buzzy I start to get grumpy. Too much buzz is not always a good thing and I've been disappointed many times. In addition to that, for the last few years we've been subjected to all kinds of books being branded as #MeToo books because it's become a (very depressing) marketing strategy. So I approached MY DARK VANESSA, a buzzy #MeToo book, with caution. So imagine my surprise when I found that it was not only good but nuanced and interesting. While the ability to openly accuse people of sexual assault and be (mostly) believed in our current form is new, this book uses that as a springboard for a deeper consideration of the long-term effects of trauma and a clear-eyed look at LOLITA.If it isn't apparent, this is a book with a pile of content warnings. Rape of a child is described repeatedly and in detail, and it's important to call it that even if the child is a 15-year-old who thinks she knows what she's doing and wouldn't call it that herself.Vanessa would say she had an affair with Jacob Strane, her English teacher at boarding school, starting when she was 15. The book moves back and forth, tracing the "affair" of her youth, then taking you to Vanessa 15 years or so later, still so wound up in the "relationship" and its aftermath that she hasn't really developed into a fully functional person. The older Vanessa knows on some level that this relationship was bad, that it hurt her, but she cannot look it straight on. She does not know how she can continue to exist if she admits that the most formative thing in her life was horrifically traumatizing repeated rape and not a romantic affair with an older man. The adult Vanessa is a mess, and her life gets even messier when another one of Strane's students alleges he was inappropriate with her. Strane is desperate to make sure Vanessa will not betray him, constantly worried about ruin, and as more and more accusers appear many people who have heard whisperings of Vanessa's experience are encouraging her to speak up. Meanwhile in the past, we get to see just how Vanessa got to where she is. While her relationship with Strane is rarely physically violent, you get to see exactly how she is groomed and how Strane constantly manipulates her. Teenage Vanessa may be thrilled by Strane's attention, but as things get more physical she is often uncomfortable, awkward, angry, and depressed. Vanessa is unable to see clearly what is happening to her, too young to recognize the damage being done, and too lost in romanticism Strane encourages and a narrative he constructs for her. None of this is written to explain to you what is happening. If you don't recognize this kind of relationship on its face as inappropriate, you will not get a lot of narrative signals to tell you as much. What impressed me most about this book is the way Russell trusts in the reader to see what is happening even when Vanessa cannot see it herself. She is a classically unreliable narrator but not for the classical reasons. Strane gives Vanessa a copy of LOLITA while he grooms her. It becomes Vanessa's favorite book, guiding her through everything, and letting her get lost in the language of it. Russell has clearly studied it closely--Strane sure sounds like a Nabokovian name, so much like "strain,"-- and she strongly confronts the way in which its place as a modern classic has opened the door to a patent acceptance of pedophilia and sexual assault. You can't start a class on LOLITA by simply saying, "Clearly Humbert is terrible," and expect that you have now addressed it and can move on. We have to acknowledge that this is a book a predator who's an English teacher can give a victim who's a bookish girl that will only make his path to hurting her easier. It's enough to make you woozy. Especially if you were a bookish teenage girl who read a lot of Nabokov.While difficult things are constantly happening in this book, it is weirdly readable. You may find yourself compulsively pushing your way through it. The idea of inappropriate relationships based on balance of power or significant age differences have not quite reached a societal stasis even in the Me Too era. When you have survived by deciding that you were an active and willing participant, that you had all the power in a situation, it is a significant change to recognize that you were actually a victim instead. Vanessa's case may be quite clear cut, but there are others in the book that aren't as obvious, and many would argue that Vanessa isn't a victim of rape or anything else, even when they get the full facts. It's that nuance that makes the book so vital and important to me. This book will probably start a lot of conversations if it ends up being as big as the hype machine seems to intend it will be. It could get pretty ugly. But it needs to. We aren't done yet with all of this, not even close.
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  • Emma
    January 1, 1970
    Vanessa Wye is a teacher’s pet. Or a ‘classroom pet’ as Mr. Noyes remarks when he catches 15 year old Vanessa and 45 year old Jacob Strane together. The comment given with laugh that might as well have been a nudge and a wink. In her first term at a new prep school, away from home, and without anyone to talk to, Vanessa is struggling to keep up. And she’s just lost her best friend to a boy, of all things. But her English teacher really gets her. He gives her books to read. Books that seem to Vanessa Wye is a teacher’s pet. Or a ‘classroom pet’ as Mr. Noyes remarks when he catches 15 year old Vanessa and 45 year old Jacob Strane together. The comment given with laugh that might as well have been a nudge and a wink. In her first term at a new prep school, away from home, and without anyone to talk to, Vanessa is struggling to keep up. And she’s just lost her best friend to a boy, of all things. But her English teacher really gets her. He gives her books to read. Books that seem to hold special relevance, that resonate with the way she’s feeling, that give her new ways of thinking about herself. Books like Nabokov’s Lolita, an immediate favourite. He makes her feel special. And if sometimes she’s not entirely certain about the things that happen between them, if they maybe go a bit further than she was expecting…well, that’s ok because afterwards she’s almost definitely sure she wanted it to happen. That’s what he tells her anyway. And she believes him, because they’re in love.Uncomfortable?? Get used to it. This book doesn’t hold anything back. If you think you might struggle to read a step by step guide to grooming and manipulation that includes scenes of sexual abuse, including rape, then don’t pick this up. It’s aggressively disturbing, deliberately and rightly so, told through the eyes of a girl who has so internalised her abuse as a love story that this twisted concept of youthful romance dominates her life. The narrative is told through two timelines, revealing her experiences as teen and adult, but both focus on the way she understands and explains her ‘relationship’ with her teacher. Especially when he is accused of sexual abuse by another ex-student and it seems like she might not have been ‘special’ after all.The author’s exploration of victimhood vs agency is challenging, apparently inspired by her teenage sexual experiences with older men. The novel questions what it means to be a victim, as well as the exploring the relative power(lessness) of someone who is experiencing or has experienced sexual abuse/trauma. Anyone who’s read Lolita will recognise the themes. My Dark Vanessa is both a response to/refashioning of that book and references the text throughout. Here though, we don’t get the voice of the Humbert/Jacob character. This book centres Vanessa’s emotional journey, the reader following her normalisation of a relationship which breaks the cultural, legal, and moral boundaries of contemporary society. Whatever ‘power’ she accords herself, it is clear that this is no equal relationship. Vanessa’s thought processes fall into a pattern of mitigating Strane’s behaviour rather than developing genuine notions of her own agency. As she searches for some kind of understanding, about her situation and the ways it makes her feel, she creates for herself a sense of validation through negative association. The endless litany of ‘i’m/he’s/we’re different’ is a heartbreaking process of justification that doesn’t prevent the reader from seeing that Vanessa is manipulated, groomed so well that her very idea of herself is warped to serve the needs of her abuser. The language he uses, the way he controls through guilt and threat and fear, the asking of consent after acting/doing so that he can always say he asked and received permission, the appeal to her love for him as a means of protecting himself from consequences of his actions… all of it forcing on Vanessa a narrative of herself and her behaviour that’s so convincing she believes it wholeheartedly. Her inability to understand what is happening to her fundamentally affects how she conceives her relationship with him, both as a young girl and later in adulthood. Her manipulated feeling is just one more facet of the abuse, a tool to ensure compliance. Because if this is her choice, then it’s also her fault. Poor Strane is lost to the love he feels for his Lolita. Nobody could possibly understand. What a tragedy. Yet the complexity here is not about Jacob Strane, it’s about Vanessa’s experience and its validity, regardless of how it came about. Trauma is not easy to deal with, love is hard to let go. This is the heart of it all. If Vanessa believed in the love she felt, does it make it less true to her when others redefine what she experienced? ‘What he did to me wasn’t rape rape’, Vanessa says when describing what happened. She’s arguing for her own emotional and physical action here, her involvement. But while she might not frame the sexual abuse as such, it seems pretty clear to the reader. As frustrating as it is, especially when continued by the adult Vanessa, the author perfectly demonstrates how and why she thinks the ways she does. It is never anything less that real, the straightforward style making it almost relatable. And utterly terrifying. Still, it feels dangerous to me to allow for shades of agency within the framework of this type of coercion. Is there any difference if in one scene she’s penetrated before she consents or even really knows what’s going on and in another she invites him into her childhoods bedroom? What about the time she says stop or what if she orgasms? Do we need the specifics to decide what is or isn’t rape in this case? What about the times she enjoyed it? Does it make her less of a victim? How does it chance our perceptions of her to know and see these moments? I’m reminded of another book: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent. Not just because abuse underpins both stories, but because each girl has to manage the ever changing boundaries between what they feel and what they know. And the reader has to come to terms with the fact that what we know doesn’t necessarily change how they feel. In fiction, as in real life, the argument that ‘you can’t feel like that because I don’t want you to or don’t think you should’ has no relevance to someone’s lived experience. There’s an expectation to it, a demand that victims act how we want them to or they’re not really victims at all. For me, the culpability in this case is clear, but the hardest thing to take was that Vanessa didn’t necessarily agree. I have a feeling that this book is going to be divisive as hell and that means it’ll be BIG. The hype has already started, with Stephen King calling it ‘a package of dynamite’. I can’t argue with that, it’s a conversation starter to say the very least. I leave it with mixed feelings. It’s a well-constructed, timely story with seriously impactful writing that challenges the way you think. But perhaps there’s too much graphic detail? Whether I feel that way simply because I didn’t want to read vivid, explicit scenes of sexual abuse or whether the author made the wrong choice in putting so much into the story, I can’t say. My visceral reaction hasn’t lessened days later. I really didn’t want these mental pictures and I hope they don’t stay too long. This is why, in the end, it only got 4 stars from me. As much as the book is about trauma, victimhood, consent, and agency, all I can remember are scenes of coercion and rape. Read it if you can, but really be aware of what’s within these pages. You won’t forget it, whether you want to or not.ARC via Netgalley
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  • Katie B
    January 1, 1970
    First of all let me say my review is not going to do this book justice as I know I'm not going to be able to convey what a meaningful reading experience this was for me. It was definitely an uncomfortable read but it's an important book and if I could give a copy to every female I know, I would. And actually I want men to read this book as well. It is one of the most thought provoking novels I have ever read.Back in 2000, Vanessa was fifteen years old and attending a boarding school. She doesn't First of all let me say my review is not going to do this book justice as I know I'm not going to be able to convey what a meaningful reading experience this was for me. It was definitely an uncomfortable read but it's an important book and if I could give a copy to every female I know, I would. And actually I want men to read this book as well. It is one of the most thought provoking novels I have ever read.Back in 2000, Vanessa was fifteen years old and attending a boarding school. She doesn't have any friends and is struggling a bit in school. Her 42 year old English teacher, Jacob Strane, shows an interest in her and the inappropriate relationship that develops is something that impacts Vanessa's life for years to come. The story alternates between Vanessa while she is a high school student, her college years, as well as 2017 when a former student of Strane has accused him of sexual abuse and reaches out to Vanessa. She wants Vanessa to confirm that Strane is a sexual predator but if Vanessa chooses to come forward it will mean she can no longer think of him as her first love and the most important person in her life. She would be forced to look at him in a completely different light.I know some readers aren't fans of alternating timelines but for this book I think it was absolutely necessary and added all these layers to an already complex story. I found it interesting when reading the publisher's note that this book was something the author started years ago when she was just a teenager. It's so obvious a tremendous amount of thought and care was put into this novel. Every word has a purpose. It really is extraordinary and if you think you can handle the subject matter, I highly recommend checking this one out. This story and Vanessa are going to stick with me for a very long time.Thank you to the publisher, William Morrow, for sending me an advance reader's copy! I was under no obligation to post a review and all views expressed are my honest opinion.
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  • Suzanne Leopold (Suzy Approved Book Reviews)
    January 1, 1970
    Vanessa Wye was a student at a prestigious boarding school. When she was fifteen, she became romantically involved with her forty-two-year-old English teacher, Jacob Strane. She formed a deep connection with Jacob who gave her extra attention and books to read, including the aptly titled ”Lolita”. Vanessa was vulnerable and lonely after fighting with her best friend and the timing was perfect for someone to step into the void.Throughout the years Vanessa has maintained contact with Jacob as she Vanessa Wye was a student at a prestigious boarding school. When she was fifteen, she became romantically involved with her forty-two-year-old English teacher, Jacob Strane. She formed a deep connection with Jacob who gave her extra attention and books to read, including the aptly titled ”Lolita”. Vanessa was vulnerable and lonely after fighting with her best friend and the timing was perfect for someone to step into the void.Throughout the years Vanessa has maintained contact with Jacob as she fondly considers him her first love. At age thirty-two, her world unravels when a former student of Strane’s, goes public about a series of abuses. A journalist researching these events reaches out to Vanessa for her own story. She is forced to reevaluate her own past and to consider whether her relationship with Jacob was based on love or something more sinister.”My Dark Vanessa” is a debut novel by Kate Elizabeth Russell that is superbly written considering the storyline. It is a compelling, distressing, and haunting story that will stick with you for days.
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  • Kate Russell
    January 1, 1970
    This is my book! I put my whole heart into it.
  • Carol
    January 1, 1970
    My Dark Vanessa is a dark novel indeed. It reads like non-fiction and is not an easy book to review. What I can tell you is that is has haunted me since I finished reading it. The two main characters are Mr Strange, the teacher, and Vanessa, the fifteen year old student. It begins with a pat on the knee by Strange and a whisper in which he draws Nessa into his web by comparing their similarities. Though a bit shocked she is also intrigued by that hand and his continued sensual stroking. Sounds My Dark Vanessa is a dark novel indeed. It reads like non-fiction and is not an easy book to review. What I can tell you is that is has haunted me since I finished reading it. The two main characters are Mr Strange, the teacher, and Vanessa, the fifteen year old student. It begins with a pat on the knee by Strange and a whisper in which he draws Nessa into his web by comparing their similarities. Though a bit shocked she is also intrigued by that hand and his continued sensual stroking. Sounds so innocent and yet as adults we see what's happening. Vanessa is a vulnerable young woman yet she doesn't see herself as such. Strange, I hate to dignify him with the Mr., is a groomer, yet he doesn't see himself as such. Psychologically compelling. I would love to attend a book discussion of My Dark Vanessa.ARC provided by Publisher, William Morrow, Edelweiss, and Author Kate Elizabeth Russell. Hardbound edition to be released February 12, 2020.
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  • Linda
    January 1, 1970
    Darkness seeping into darkness......Kate Elizabeth Russell presents a story so deeply embedded into the rough-edged corners of the mind that one must pause continuously throughout it and sift through the muddled surfaces for personal clarity. The publisher's brief introduction allows us to feel the beginnings of a glimmer into a student/teacher relationship that goes tragically into the high weeds of the forbidden.Vanessa Wye is but fifteen years old. She's been awarded a scholarship to a Darkness seeping into darkness......Kate Elizabeth Russell presents a story so deeply embedded into the rough-edged corners of the mind that one must pause continuously throughout it and sift through the muddled surfaces for personal clarity. The publisher's brief introduction allows us to feel the beginnings of a glimmer into a student/teacher relationship that goes tragically into the high weeds of the forbidden.Vanessa Wye is but fifteen years old. She's been awarded a scholarship to a private school. Living in the outskirts of a small town in Maine has left her mostly to herself with a noticeable lack of friends. Her mother believes that all she needs is to polish her social skills and all will be well. My antennae went up in regard to Vanessa's mom. Seems like Mommy is keeping Vanessa's early years under wraps. Though she sheds tears in her daughter's dorm room, we readers don't know if it is from an unsettled controlling mind or from some kind of relief.We sit beside Vanessa as she creates chaos out of her class schedule and wrecks havoc with the unkempt condition of her room. Her assignments are turned in crumpled or not at all. The counselors seem perplexed. But through all of this, Vanessa reveals a highly functioning talent in writing. Her literature teacher, Jacob Strane, takes notice of both her poetry skill and of Vanessa herself. He comments on the color of her hair and how it resembles a maple leaf. Vanessa's head turns and she begins to see Mr. Strane in a completely different light as he sees her. And now we begin to see the stain of a tainted relationship permeating beneath the surface.I must warn you that My Dark Vanessa is not for everyone. But it should be. Kate Elizabeth Russell does a superb job of revealing the mindset of the manipulative predator who seeks to draw the weak link from the chain. Strane draws Vanessa in with her love of literature and in particular poetry. He carves out his reading assignments with Vanessa in mind. Slowly we see her caught up in the web of his deceitfulness in which he has created a Netherworld of only two occupants. He and Vanessa.The author states that she has never been abused, but the dialogue and the head games speak loudly of someone who has existed under these circumstances. Russell flips the story from 2000 to 2007 with Vanessa still at sea in her emotional turmoil. What is at the core of all of this is simply Truth and the denial of what is real. Vanessa clings to her frayed personal version that she was never a "victim" in all this. She held the power in the relationship......and that's what he always wanted her to believe.After reading My Dark Vanessa, we seem to feel the pulse of those victims spoken and unspoken who are still out there. And we experience the weakness in the dysfunctional systems in society that are suppose to protect the vulnerable. This one is going to stay with you for a long time to come.I received a copy of this book through Goodreads Giveaways. I wish to thank William Morrow Books and Kate Elizabeth Russell for the opportunity.
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  • Johann (jobis89)
    January 1, 1970
    Believe the hype! I couldn’t put this down. Compelling and addictive, with a strong message. Full review to come.
  • Janet
    January 1, 1970
    What a fine book. The shock of recognition, again and again. A bright girl gets a scholarship to an elite boarding school, where she is singled out by an English teacher as a promising young student. An affair begins, an affair the girl truly hopes for, the romance with this wise older man, the excitement of their mutual obsession... the mutuality of which she still maintains, even years later, casting it as a true meeting of minds--and ignoring how it derailed her academic career and her What a fine book. The shock of recognition, again and again. A bright girl gets a scholarship to an elite boarding school, where she is singled out by an English teacher as a promising young student. An affair begins, an affair the girl truly hopes for, the romance with this wise older man, the excitement of their mutual obsession... the mutuality of which she still maintains, even years later, casting it as a true meeting of minds--and ignoring how it derailed her academic career and her ability to maintain adult romantic relationships. Vanessa's working through this paradox, the adult in denial, the unreliable voice, is the brilliance of the book--that and her ability to recreate the romantic eagerness of a girl who thinks herself special because of an older man's favoring her. Here was my quote for the book jacket:Who is to say who is a victim? My Dark Vanessa explores the sexually-charged shadow world between desire and interruption, girlhood and womanhood, coersion and complicity. Breathtakingly suspenseful, like downing a flaming drink without blowing it out.
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  • Cortney LaScola - The Bookworm, Myrtle Beach
    January 1, 1970
    There were times I tossed this book away from me in disgust, so angry, but I kept picking it back up again and again.Kate Elizabeth Russell is an outstanding writer, who so perfectly nailed what really happens in these type of situations.It was haunting and heartbreaking, and one of the best books I read all year.
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  • Liz Barnsley
    January 1, 1970
    My Dark Vanessa is an absolute powerhouse of a novel, exploring a tough reality, without having any need to resort to dramatics nor the need to sink into preachy explanation of its point, but simply allowing it's central protagonist, the Vanessa of the title, to show you her world.Exploring the abusive relationship of this girl with her teacher, the novel charts many years of Vanessa's life - her thoughts, outlook and reality will hit you right in the soul, you can't look away from her raw, My Dark Vanessa is an absolute powerhouse of a novel, exploring a tough reality, without having any need to resort to dramatics nor the need to sink into preachy explanation of its point, but simply allowing it's central protagonist, the Vanessa of the title, to show you her world.Exploring the abusive relationship of this girl with her teacher, the novel charts many years of Vanessa's life - her thoughts, outlook and reality will hit you right in the soul, you can't look away from her raw, visceral truth, a truth seen through a glass darkly. It is heart breaking and anger inducing in equal measure, a genuinely important tale of our times, written with an insightful, often beautiful prose and pulling no punches whatsoever.There is hype surrounding this 2020 release to be sure but for once it is absolutely justified on every level I can think of. A stunning literary achievement from a truly talented author, it really should be the one everyone talks about. I certainly will be talking about it a lot more in the run up to publication both publicly and privately. Highly Recommended isn't really good enough but it's what I have.
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  • Acacia Ives
    January 1, 1970
    This book is a wow. An absolute wow, I couldn’t have picked a better way to explore this subject of an inappropriate relationship between student and teacher. If you like this book you’ll like these violent delights. Similar topic but explored in a different storytelling style. I will warn you this topic is hard to digest. It leaves little to the imagination and fills you with discomfort and unease. Overall one of my favorites of 2019.
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  • Dennis
    January 1, 1970
    My Dark Vanessa is one of the darkest, yet compelling, reads that I've ever read. Like witnessing a car crash, it's cringeworthy and also very captivating. Kate Elizabeth Russell is an amazing writer and I've now been hypnotized by her storytelling. Without diving too much into the story, My Dark Vanessa explores a young woman's journey navigating life after her childhood was tarnished by a toxic, influential man. This bone-chilling story is all too true for many women and it accurately My Dark Vanessa is one of the darkest, yet compelling, reads that I've ever read. Like witnessing a car crash, it's cringeworthy and also very captivating. Kate Elizabeth Russell is an amazing writer and I've now been hypnotized by her storytelling. Without diving too much into the story, My Dark Vanessa explores a young woman's journey navigating life after her childhood was tarnished by a toxic, influential man. This bone-chilling story is all too true for many women and it accurately portrays what many are finally being able to confront head-on with the #MeToo era. As I was reading, I could not put this book down, even as it went to dark places that I was not expecting—this book is important. I see big things for Ms. Russell and I think My Dark Vanessa will be one of the most talked about books in the upcoming year.
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  • Shannon
    January 1, 1970
    RTC but I’ve never felt more confused with my feelings while reading a book ever. So good.
  • Nadia
    January 1, 1970
    If you are looking for a book to cheer you up, warm up your heart or make you feel good about the world, this book will do none of those things. My Dark Vanessa is the ultimate 5 star novel, but it is not a light read.My Dark Vanessa could be a story of a 15 year old girl who fell in love with her teacher or it might be a story of a 15 year old who was groomed and abused by a manipulative predator of a teacher. In anycase, it is a story of a troubled but vulnerable girl yearning for love who is If you are looking for a book to cheer you up, warm up your heart or make you feel good about the world, this book will do none of those things. My Dark Vanessa is the ultimate 5 star novel, but it is not a light read. My Dark Vanessa could be a story of a 15 year old girl who fell in love with her teacher or it might be a story of a 15 year old who was groomed and abused by a manipulative predator of a teacher. In any case, it is a story of a troubled but vulnerable girl yearning for love who is taken advantage of.This book is perfection not because of its timely subject matter or the complex characters or the engrossing writing, but first and foremost the masterful depiction of the psyche of a 15 year old, her journey and coping with the aftermath of the abuse that follows her into adulthood. I don't know Kate Elizabeth Russell and I don't know her life story but one thing is clear from this book. She writes about what she knows and she does it brilliantly.   "I'm going to ruin you." This book definitely ruined me, yet it is my best read of 2019.Many thanks to 4th Estate and William Collins for a review copy in exchange for an honest review. 
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  • Blair
    January 1, 1970
    (4.5) This book isn’t published until March 2020, but I’ve been hearing about it for the best part of a year. The buzz is so strong that I have already seen other forthcoming books being marketed with ‘for fans of My Dark Vanessa’ in the PR copy. For fans of a book that hasn’t even come out yet! I’m generally dubious that anything can live up to this level of hype (just look at The Miniaturist), and dubious about the subject matter, too – a 15-year-old girl having a sexual relationship with her (4.5) This book isn’t published until March 2020, but I’ve been hearing about it for the best part of a year. The buzz is so strong that I have already seen other forthcoming books being marketed with ‘for fans of My Dark Vanessa’ in the PR copy. For fans of a book that hasn’t even come out yet! I’m generally dubious that anything can live up to this level of hype (just look at The Miniaturist), and dubious about the subject matter, too – a 15-year-old girl having a sexual relationship with her fortysomething teacher. I was made even more wary by the UK marketing campaign, which leads with attention-grabbing but stomach-churning quotes such as the teacher’s memorable statement: ‘It’s just my luck that when I find my soulmate, she’s fifteen years old.’We meet Vanessa in 2017. She is 32 and working as a hotel concierge. Straight away, one thing becomes clear: Vanessa does not believe herself to be a victim. She stays in contact with the teacher, Jacob Strane, though they no longer have sex: last time they tried, when she was 27, ‘it didn’t work. He kept going soft; I was too old’. Nevertheless, she imagines they will end up together, after a fashion: ‘I assume I’ll be the one he turns to in ten or fifteen years, whenever his body begins to break down’. (Already, Russell has you picking up on the affected nonchalance here and figuring out Vanessa’s character.) Another former student has accused Strane of assault, and Vanessa – at least at first – is in denial, firmly on Strane’s side.But the most important parts of the story are told in flashbacks to 2000. These are chapters I fell into head-first. I felt like I had observed, even participated in, these scenes rather than read them. There’s a children’s-book magic at work here: the setting is enchanting; the corners are horribly dark. Vanessa is a scholarship girl, already an outsider, and freshly lonely after a painful friendship breakup. She romanticises everything about her school, Browick, and through her eyes the reader too comes to see it as a fairytale place. The power Browick holds for Vanessa is clear – leaving would be unimaginable. Into this vulnerable space comes Strane, gifting Vanessa a copy of Lolita, brushing her knee as he reads her poetry, telling her ‘you’re a dark romantic like me’.What Russell does so well is the contrast between Vanessa’s memories and her reality, both past and present. With every glimpse we catch of the latter, we see how Strane has ruined Vanessa’s life – how her every thought and decision is still governed by him. His voice is forever in her head; she has trapped herself in amber as the girl she was at 15, the girl she believes he ‘fell in love’ with. At the same time, back in 2000, you understand perfectly how easily this terrible seduction could happen. Vanessa’s tension jumps off the page with such power that I kept forgetting what I was reading about – instead I was there, in the moment, frozen with dreadful excitement.My Dark Vanessa is one of those books to which book-review cliches – ‘unputdownable’, ‘can't believe this is a debut’ – can be applied sincerely. I read it quickly and was consumed by it entirely, emerging as if from a trance. It traverses its thorny subject better than perhaps any similar story I have read, not just in its technical approach but in its use of empathy. As you read, Russell puts you in Vanessa’s shoes. You feel everything the character does: exhilaration, doubt, denial, fear; devastation when she admits the truth of her experience; anger at the adults who failed her younger self; and finally, hope.I received an advance review copy of My Dark Vanessa from the publisher through NetGalley.TinyLetter
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  • Abbie | ab_reads
    January 1, 1970
    Thank you so much @4thestatebooks for allowing me the privilege of reading an early copy of this book. It’s being hailed as one of the most powerful, explosive books of 2020 and I fully concur. I fell head over heels for this one, completely obsessed to the point where I couldn’t do anything else until I finished it. It’s supremely uncomfortable, unsettling, disturbing, and completely necessary for our time. If you know anyone who has a tendency towards victim blaming in grooming and sexual Thank you so much @4thestatebooks for allowing me the privilege of reading an early copy of this book. It’s being hailed as one of the most powerful, explosive books of 2020 and I fully concur. I fell head over heels for this one, completely obsessed to the point where I couldn’t do anything else until I finished it. It’s supremely uncomfortable, unsettling, disturbing, and completely necessary for our time. If you know anyone who has a tendency towards victim blaming in grooming and sexual abuse cases, buy them this book..Vanessa Wye is 15 years old when she first has sex with her teacher. Now, 17 years later, another former student of this teacher comes forward with allegations of sexual abuse, forcing Vanessa to reassess what she still thinks of as the greatest love of her life..For the entirety of this book you are inside Vanessa’s head and I am so grateful Russell kept it this way. Unlike Lolita, when you’re in the head of the despicable Humbert Humbert, here we’re with Lolita and we’re privy to the full, devastating effects of grooming. From Vanessa’s perspective we can see the sickening ways the abuser attempts to justify what they’re doing, making it seem like an alluring prospect, convincing the victim that they’re different, special, more mature, an exception to the law. We see the various ways they trap them, the gaslighting and manipulation, the way their twisted logic can make the victim believe they hold the power, they’re calling the shots when actually they are powerless..Russell also captures the hot mess that is social media during high profile (and not) sexual abuse cases, with the endless accusations of women lying, exaggerating, receiving death and rape threats for having the courage to come forward, and of course those who come out in support of the abuser because they ‘don’t seem like the type’ or ‘don’t deserve to have their lives ruined over something both parties wanted’. Yes you will feel physically ill while reading this one, but if you can handle it, then I would highly recommend you read it. Not everyone will be able to, as there are obviously huge triggers for sexual abuse and rape..I loved the ending. Nothing is wrapped up with a bow, as nothing ever is for those who have suffered in this way. Heartbreaking yet hopeful.
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  • Julie Zantopoulos
    January 1, 1970
    "He touched me first, said he wanted to kiss me, told me he loved me. Every first step was taken by him. I don't feel forced, and I know I have the power to say no, but that isn't the same as being in charge."This is a difficult book to read, and it should be. It doesn't mince words, it doesn't try to pretty up what it is. This is the Me Too movements gritty side. The side of a girl who deep in the abuse she doesn't see it as abuse. The girl who even in her twenties is protecting her abuser and "He touched me first, said he wanted to kiss me, told me he loved me. Every first step was taken by him. I don't feel forced, and I know I have the power to say no, but that isn't the same as being in charge."This is a difficult book to read, and it should be. It doesn't mince words, it doesn't try to pretty up what it is. This is the Me Too movements gritty side. The side of a girl who deep in the abuse she doesn't see it as abuse. The girl who even in her twenties is protecting her abuser and denying that anything wrong ever took place. Not because she didn't sleep with her teacher but because she was different, she was loved, and what they had wasn't bad. "What kind of girl would want what he did to me? Driven toward it, toward him, I was the kind of girl who wasn't supposed to exist: one eager to hurl herself into the path of a pedophile."This is a book that is downright unsettling because you are in the head of a young girl so groomed for the relationship that she romanticizes it. You're with her for on-page sex, for a physical relationship she's not ready for emotionally or physically. Which means seeing her in situations that are deeply disturbing and hard to read. So, go in knowing that. "I can't lose the thing I've held on to for so long. I just really need it to be a love story. You know? I really, really need it to be that. Because it is isn't a love story, then what is it? This has been my whole life."This novel is heartbreaking and important. I'm glad I read it. I'm glad that it made me uncomfortable. I'm glad that it exists for all those out there who know they're a part of the Me Too movement even if they can't say it out loud or admit it to themselves. It's for all those who have suffered in silence and convinced themselves they liked it. It broke my heart.Trigger warnings for pedophilia, suicide, psychological abuse, rape, child abuse, parental neglect, neglect and negligence of teachers and authority figures, trauma, the depiction of grief, loss, depression, and sexual abuse. Also, anything to do with the manipulation of, grooming of, and seeing through of sex with a minor while in a position of power.
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