My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Photo of the book My Dark Vanessa laying on wood
My Dark Vanessa

5 out of 5 stars

This book is a deeply disturbing portrait of the long-term effects of sexual abuse on a young woman. Vanessa, a lonely, fifteen-year-old student at a boarding school, is approached by her English professor and groomed for a sexual relationship. Alternating between past and present, the book is told from Vanessa’s perspective and follows her through her mid-thirties, with her relationship with Dr. Strane shaping everything she does. 

This book is not for the faint of heart. It is a raw, haunting, and emotionally troubling story that both pulls you in and makes you want to look away. One of the most challenging elements of the book is how many people suspect the abuse but don’t do anything to stop it.  As Vanessa observes, “It’s enough to make me crazy, seeing these things no one seems to notice.”

My Dark Vanessa is a powerful, perspective-altering book. It is hard to believe that it is a debut novel. Russell creates a complex, memorable character in Vanessa. Her experience, particularly her refusal to accept she was a victim, will stay with me for a long time.

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