My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (Review by Missi Gwartney)

2 min read

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

Let me start by saying that this was one of the hardest books that I have read in a long time. Not because it wasn’t great but because I wasn’t quite prepared for the dark, intense subject nature. That being said, it is a brilliantly told story of a young and naive girl who recounts her first encounter of “love” with a much older teacher and why she can’t seem to let go. Trying to define the meanings of love, abuse, victimization, protection, and manipulation, My Dark Vanessa is a dark and disturbing journey of tangled emotions that stays with you long after you’ve finished.

It’s 2017 and Vanessa has just learned that her beloved high school English teacher, Jacob Strane, has been accused of sexual abuse by a fellow student. Vanessa, now an adult, has a hard time wrapping her mind around the allegations because she was in the same position with the same teacher 17 years ago. However, Vanessa never considered it abuse and was convinced that a true deep love (by them both) was the core of her relationship with Strane. Will Vanessa continue to stay quiet after all these years and protect the delicate memories of her first love or will she decide that it wasn’t love at all and finally speak out?

Flashback to 2000, and Vanessa has just entered her sophomore year of high school. Drawn to her teacher (Strane), she can’t help but wonder if she may be more than just a “teacher’s pet” and finds a way to spend as much time as possible in his classroom. Realizing that more than friendship is possible, Vanessa ends up intertwined in a relationship that she convinces herself she was willing to pursue and engage in. Can she find a way out and if so, does she really want to? Is this what love looks like and why is she so drawn to a relationship that she knows isn’t right?

Flipping back and forth between Vanessa’s past and present, this book gives the reader a glimpse into how she became entangled with Jacob Strane and why, 17 years later, she still can’t seem to let him go. This is a powerful story that brings very sensitive issues to the surface. I was left with a new perspective on the power of mistaking manipulation and abuse for a feeling of love when that’s what you’re looking for. I’d recommend this book as it opens the door to a deeper look at why it’s often so hard to categorize a relationship as simply right or wrong.

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