Title: My Dark Vanessa
Author: Kate Elizabeth Russell
Publisher: HarperCollins (March 2020)
Vanessa is obsessed with Mr. Strane. He is older, smart, handsome…and he’s her high school English teacher. Strange enough, he loves her too and the two of them are soon entangled in an unnerving relationship. 17 years later, amidst the “Me Too” movement, Strane is once again faced with allegations of rape and Vanessa, still denying that she entered the relationship willingly, comes face to face with what happened to her and has to decide what she experienced was truly what she believed all along.
What I Think:
One of the first things I thought of while reading My Dark Vanessa is “trainwreck.” You know when there’s an accident on the road and everyone slows down to look at it even as they’re saying “This is horrible, why am I looking?” This is how I felt the entire time I read this book. Vanessa is having an affair with her high school English teacher, people find out, and instead of doing the right thing, they humiliate her and kick her out of the boarding school. Vanessa, however, continues to see Mr. Strane over the next 17 years even as it continues to destroy her psychologically and physically.
It’s a book that draws heavily on Lolita (a book I need to read eventually), only told from the child’s point of view and I felt very frustrated with the character throughout the story. I know Vanessa is an abused woman and is acting out due to her psychological damage, but I keep waiting for her to realize what’s happening is abuse even after several people tell her so. But more so, I was frustrated with her parents, the administration, even students who act like they care for her, didn’t help her at all; in fact, they further damaged her, making her who she is.
This is not a book I will read again. It’s an important read on how child abuse causes damage well into adulthood, but the reader won’t find many, if any, happy moments. There is a touch of hopefulness at the end, but in the end, you’re just stuck in a purgatory: not really happy but not really at the pit of despair anymore. And that is the one thing I hoped for in this book was some sort of resolution.
Rating: 4 Stars
If you read the book, let me know your thoughts in the comments below!