Book Reviews

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell – Book Review

A book cover for My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell opened on a tablet device

Warning – possible spoilers! (Tiny ones, though, and I’ll try to avoid even those; I swear I’ll give my best not to ruin it for you… :-))

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell – Book Details

TITLE – My Dark Vanessa

AUTHOR – Kate Elizabeth Russell

GENRE – fiction, contemporary, literary fiction



MY RATING – 5 of 5


Initial Thoughts

I feel like in the past few months I’ve only been reading debuts. And if someone had told me I would be enjoying them this much – I don’t think I would believe them.

My Dark Vanessa – of course I’ve heard of this book. Of course I did. It’s been everywhere for the past eight or so months.

It is the book I got recommended most often by my subscribers, fellow book bloggers and just random people. And everyone seemed to agree – this book simply should not be missed!

Yet, considering how much everyone’s been talking about, I knew surprisingly little about the plot itself. Sure, I’ve heard that the story was about an inappropriate relationship between a 15-year-old student and her 42-year-old teacher. And that we also get Vanessa’s perspective from years after that, when she is a bit more able to objectively assess the situation.

But in which direction the story develops, its general vibe or how it might end – I had absolutely no idea.

After all the hype, My Dark Vanessa became one of my most anticipated books to read this year. And I was super interested, excited and – I’m not gonna lie – a little bit nervous to finally get to it…

What It Is About

A book quote from My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell: “Sometimes it feels like that’s all I’m doing every time I reach out—trying to haunt, to drag him back in time, asking him to tell me again what happened. Make me understand it once and for all. Because I’m still stuck here. I can’t move on.”

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell is an all-consuming, thought provoking novel that explores an age-gap relationship, abuse, consent, coming of age, acceptance and long-lasting trauma. It alternates between two timelines:

In 2000, Vanessa Wye is a talented 15-year-old girl who starts a relationship with her 42-year-old teacher Jacob Strane. She sees their relationship as romantic and herself as the one who’s in charge.

In 2017, Strane is (again) accused of sexual harassment by a former student. And Vanessa has to decide whether she will remain silent or step forward and tell her story. But to do that, it’s not the public but herself whom she needs to convince first…

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell – My Review

I loved how relatable this story felt, even for someone like me who never first-hand experienced what Vanessa has gone through.

It reminded me of how it was to be young and still in search of who you really are. Of how difficult being young was. How alone you can feel when you are 15. Like everyone else is doing better than you. Like you’re not good enough.

How strong was the need to be accepted and for people to see you in a certain way. When wrong things could make you feel unique. How having a secret could make you feel special. And how painful can be regretting it all down the road.

Honestly, it is not easy to believe that My Dark Vanessa is a debut novel. The characters felt completely fleshed out. The dialogs convincing and with a nice flow to them. The pacing was also well done. And the emotion – so raw, so real and deep, without ever feeling forced or fake.

I also loved the writing style. Very simple and non-distracting; it lets the story speaks for itself.

My Dark Vanessa wasn’t written in a purposefully intense or depressing way. Which ironically gave it even more weight and made the whole thing even more realistic and even more relatable.

Even before starting reading it, I knew this can be a very difficult read. And I have zero experience with sexual abuse. And not just personally, but I also don’t know anyone who’s went through something similar. So, I thought – I can totally read this book, I’m gonna be OK.

And I was not OK.

This book made me feel things I didn’t want to feel. It made me question many things I thought I knew the answers to.

Never before with any other fictional character have I had such a clear picture of a moth attracted by a flame in my head.

I loved how imperfected Vanessa was as a character. I think a lot of people tend to see victims as ‘unable’ to make mistakes. Which sometimes easily turns into – if you make mistakes, you are not a victim.

This story does a great job in portraying a common, flawed, young human being who often ends up doing the wrong thing. But that does not make her any less of a victim. Nor does it mean that what happened to her was OK.

I loved how honest this book felt from start to finish. The perspective of a fifteen-year-old girl who finds the relationship with her teacher romantic without ever realizing, not even in its darkest moments, how abusive it was. The thirty-two-year old woman suffering greatly the consequences of a relationship that has affected her whole life even though she supposedly had a choice the whole time.

And how hard it is, even after 15 years. Even with all the evidence in the world that what happened was harmful to her. To admit just how toxic that relationship was. Because if she hadn’t truly agreed to it all, then what does that make her?

Vanessa says it herself. When you have something you’ve held on to for so long, it can be so excruciatingly hard to let go. No matter how wrong that something was.

It seems almost easier to continue the pretense.

My Dark Vanessa is (or at least can be) a very fast read. One, because that writing is so accessible and easy to fly through. And two, the story is very gripping and it will be making you pick up the book pretty much every time you try to make a break.

This was not an easy read by any means, but I am so glad I read it. It ended up being one of my favorite 2020 books. And in general.

If you’re thinking about giving it a go, definitely check all the trigger warnings if there’s something you are trying to avoid. But other than that, I absolutely recommend it to pretty much everyone – there’s a good reason why so many people’s been raving about it ever since it came out.

My Signature

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *