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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell - Book Club Review

Trigger Warning - Rape and Sexual Abuse


What It's About

Vanessa, a fifteen year old girl, gets accepted into a prestigious boarding school and quickly enters into a romantic relationship with her forty-two year old English teacher, Jacob Strane.


Later, when she's in her thirties, allegations of abuse from other students arise against Strane and force Vanessa to reevaluate the relationship with the man she remembers as her first love and who is still in her life. When one of the victims reaches out to her, she must decide whether or not to stand up as a victim with her and redefine a crucial time in her life or stay firm that she willingly engaged in the relationship and regrets nothing.


What We Thought


We. Hated. This. Book. It's not super often that we are all on the same page, but here we were. It is surprising though because, this book has so many great reviews. Everyone else in the world seems to love it. Now, when I say that we hated this book, I don't want to downplay the content and I don't want to offend anyone who has gone through similar trauma. We thought that it was really important for this kind of story to be out there. The grooming that this teacher did to this little girl is so appalling and terrifying and Kate Elizabeth Russell actually did such a fantastic job of portraying this relationship and the internal struggle that Vanessa was constantly engaging in even as an adult. It was so believable and so realistic. The problem that we had with this book, was how detailed the rape scenes were. Because it was written from Vanessa's point of view, she thought that it was something that she wanted and so it's written very erotically. Especially for me, having a daughter who is a similar age, I found these scenes very hard to read and at the end of each one, I put the book down and pushed it as far away from me as I could until I had the courage to pick it up again. It was too far for me. I felt dirty reading it and Shanna described it perfectly as "a book a pedophile would want to read".

We were also unhappy with the ending. We were really hoping for some kind of healing or closure for Vanessa, but maybe in her situation that isn't always quite realistic. All in all, this is not a book we would ever recommend to anyone. In fact, I wouldn't even give it away. I can't put it in my book exchange because I don't want anyone to accidentally read it because of me and so it will live on my book shelf forever, never again opened.


Kate Elizabeth Russell writes beautifully and the story is so convincing that she actually has to preface that this story is not true and though it has some vague similarities to her own life, it is not about her. So, I do feel bad recommending that no one reads her debut novel. I will definitely read her next one, because I think that if she can write a debut of this caliber, she deserves another chance.

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