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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell


My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

What It’s About:

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.

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 Vanessais an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.


My Dark Vanessa was a difficult book to read and could possibly be triggering to readers. This book contains the themes of rape, sexual predators, teacher/student sexual relationships, and pedophilia. There were many things in this book that were eye opening and gave me alot to think about. However, I don’t agree with all the hype that surrounded this book.

What I liked:

I appreciated the perspective of the main character, Vanessa. I haven’t read many stories of victims of sexual abuse. It was interesting to see her thought processes and actions during the years of the abuse and her struggle to live her life after. The ideas of consent, teenage sexuality, teenager/parent relationships were also thought provoking. It made me compare my own teenage years to Vanessa’s experiences.

I wondered about how the 15 year old me would have done in this kind of situation. I even compared and contrasted my experience of my first relationship and first time having sex (which was around the same age) with what Vanessa experienced. It felt so sad to experience Vanessa losing her virginity in such a miserable way. Another thing that was interesting was how the author portrayed the signs and characteristics of a sexual predator. I never learned much about it until I became a teacher and we received training for it. I kept thinking about my own daughter and what I need to teach her to make sure she is never a victim.

What I didn’t like:

I struggled to have a connection to Vanessa’s character. The alternating chapters of her past and present was disorienting and it felt like the story wasn’t really going anywhere. There would have been more of an impact if there had been a chronological timeline with a clear story arc.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear what you thought!

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