Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

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My Dark Vanessa Kate Elizabeth Russell

What you have to remember when reading MY DARK VANESSA is that this is a story about Vanessa and her experience. Her recollection of her experience is not often heard, it’s not often talked about publicly, it’s not the kind of story about sexual abuse that we hear about in the paper. But this does happen, there are many Vanessas out there and their stories deserve to also be told and heard. Do not dismiss valid experiences from people like Vanessa who are still healing or have yet to begin healing from this type of abuse. That being said, this is such a powerful book. Vanessa’s story is told from her perspective at age fifteen and thirty-two, and frankly I am in awe at how closely we follow her through the halls of her boarding school, her home, and her world with Strane, her English teacher and the man who she becomes involved with, throughout her life. We know what we know in the story because they are happening to Vanessa, her observations, her quick wit and somberness that she carries as the story progresses, as she begins to realize what happened to her. This is a tough subject matter, please take care of yourself if you decide to read, I know I had to step away a couple of times. However, Kate Elizabeth masterfully wrote this much needed story through this lens and I’m so glad that she did.

* Also, the descriptions from life in 2000 (which is every time we see Vanessa at age 15) made me totally nostalgic. They are on point. 👌🏼

Make sure to pre-order this book debuts Jan. 2020

I received an e-arc of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

About this book:

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?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.


Kate Elizabeth Russell
Photo by Elena Seibert

I’m a writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. My debut novel, My Dark Vanessa, is forthcoming from William Morrow (US), 4th Estate (UK), and will be translated into over twenty languages.


Originally from eastern Maine, I earned an MFA from Indiana University and a PhD from the University of Kansas.

you can find me on twitter @GinnyMcCoo
and on instagram @kateelizabethrussell


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