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Compelling and Thought-Provoking: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Kate Elizabeth Russell wrote a very thought-provoking story that should be read. It's ugly and twisted, but should be read. I don't read Contemporary Fiction, but I'm so glad I gave this one a chance.

This review could be triggering.

by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction
Publication Date: March 10th 2020 by William Morrow Books
Rating: ★★★★½
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.
That seems the likely ending to this love story: me dropping everything and doing anything, devoted as a dog, as he takes and takes and takes.

I’m sitting here, typing this, trying to process the story, while at the same time trying to process my own. I won’t go into detail on my story, but this book brought memories (nightmares) my mind had blocked, and I’m still trying to process my experiences. I am okay, but the revelations were brutal and have made me question everything.

Back to the story, My Dark Vanessa is definitely raw and twisted, but real. I couldn’t help but think that this happens nowadays, where a teacher finds a student “special” and begins pursuing them in a subtle way. So much so, that those on the receiving end probably believe they begun pursuing their teachers, because that’s how manipulative the situation can get.

The teacher in this story, Jacob Strane, was so manipulative. Let me tell you, when someone manipulates you like Strane did Vanessa, it’s ingrained in your brain to believe everything they have ever told you. People like Strane use a twist in their words to make everything they say so believable, to come to their defense, because they play the victim card so well.

I feel like Strane targeted Vanessa because she was so lonely. She didn't have any friends, and he noticed that. He even confesses to her that he had spied her. He knew she wouldn't even have anyone to tell what was happening and he took advantage of that.

I'm no longer myself; I am no one. I'm a red balloon caught in the boughs of a tree. I'm nothing at all.

The way Strane made their “relationship” seem normal, telling her he wasn’t a pedophile, that he simply loved her and that it wasn’t a crime, made Vanessa believe she wasn’t a victim. When confronted, she couldn’t fathom the idea of Strane, a man 27 years older than her, being a pedophile.

The manipulation was so strong, Vanessa believed she was at fault and Strane was the victim. She would apologize for things she would say because Strane really knew how to play her and make her see he was suffering more than her.

"I'd rather end my life right now."

I definitely don’t blame Vanessa for defending Strane so much. She isn’t the one to blame for this. She was manipulated since she was 15-years-old. It’s all she knows. My heart broke for her throughout the story, but specifically towards the end, when she says that she can’t think of this as anything else than a love story, because if it isn’t a love story, then what was it? And she just can’t come to terms with that yet.

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.

I totally understand Vanessa. At the beginning, I didn’t. But when those revelations happened, I began to understand, began to understand how that manipulation can change you and make you believe even the most twisted things. I began to comprehend so much... At the same time, I can’t comprehend other things, like why, if she knew she didn’t want certain things with him, if she subconsciously knew she was abused, why did she kept going back? I can’t comprehend why I did the same thing.

He did that to you, now you do this to him. You can handle a few minutes of this.

Even when the story was so gritty, uncomfortable, and triggering, it’s a story I give 4.5-stars to, it’s a story I recommend. I believe it’s a story that should be read to create awareness for sexually abused victims, even more than it exists. This book gave a profound look into what goes through the mind of the victim. Why would they defend, why would they stay in that situation, why why why.

It’s not a pretty story. It will certainly make you cringe, it will certainly be uncomfortable, but it should definitely be read.

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