My Dark Vanessa | Kate Elizabeth Russell | Review

“I wonder how much victimhood they’d be willing to grant a girl like me.”





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?


Wow. This book. I don’t even know how to review this. What a fantastically written, heart breaking, gut wrenching eery story. I think that is the best I can do.

In my day job, I deal with this kind of scenario a lot and therefore I was fairly apprehensive to pick this up. Was it going to be well researched? Was it going to do victims of grooming, rape and various other criminal offences justice? Is it actually going to be dark? Is the author going to shy away from reality due to how it might affect her readers? Yes it was well researched, yes it does victims justice, yes it is dark and no Kate Elizabeth Russell definitely does not shy away from reality. This book is dark, it is raw but it is so so effective.

This is the first book I think I may have ever read that has made my skin crawl. The first book I have read that I have had to put down for a period of time just to recover from what I had just read. The first book that I have shouted “Please No” various times in the hope that the words on the page will suddenly change. This book effected me in ways that I didn’t think was possible. I thought I was immune to my feelings, I genuinely didn’t think this book would bother me. But it did, and it did a lot.

The writing style that the author adopts is so so effective, it really made me feel like I was Vanessa, like I was going through what Vanessa was going through. I thought the chapter split was also very effective. It felt very important to get to know Vanessa when she was a child but also in the present day and how she is coping with what she was subjected to. The anger, the sadness, the broken heart but most devastating the denial. The fact that even as an adult she did not believe that anything was wrong, Jacob Strane did not rape her, he loved her, at 15 years old she consented to what he did, she wanted it. Wow. Honestly so heart breaking.

This book is a difficult to read, it really is. I can’t say that I enjoyed it because that is not the right word. My Dark Vanessa deserves all of the hype that it is getting. It deserves to be read by everybody that believes that they can deal with the triggers within this book. It is such an important book.

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