Abuse not Love. | A Discussion about My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Hi friends. I'm back. Now, before you jump down my throat and yell at me for not uploading in such a long time, hear me out. The holiday season was pretty eventful this year. Mostly because Santa brought me Covid this year for Christmas. So I was down for the count for at least two weeks. I'm just now feeling normal again. Before covid, I'd had a mild case of food poisoning. I'm not sure what I did to anger the last few months of 2022, but clearly November and December had it out for me.
I have been updating my instagram mostly, so if you don't follow me over there make sure you start. Got some good things coming soon for 2023.
Anyway, there was a challenge that was going around right before the year ended. 12 books recommended by 12 friends. So of course, I had to participate. That's how I found this one. It was recommended by one of my booksta-friends. I saw that it was available through kindle unlimited, so I decided to grab it.
I was unprepared for the number of emotions this book would stir up in me. I don't even feel right calling this a book review, hence the lack of a rating and me titling this as a discussion rather than a review.
My Dark Vanessa is an exploration of the repercussions of a March/December relationship between a teacher and his student. Vanessa is contacted by a woman who is about to go public with a story of sexual abuse at the hands of an English teacher, Jacob Strane, when she was a high school student. She has heard some stories about Vanessa and Strane and wants to know if Vanessa has a story similar to her own. And Vanessa does indeed have a story about Strane, but in her mind the story is about her first love and their all-consuming passion.
And it’s the story of how that passion has reverberated through the years since, arresting Vanessa at the point in her life when Strane assured her, she was the love of his. Can a teacher have had two teenage loves of his life? Or does Vanessa need to acknowledge that there’s another name for the role Strane plays in her memory? Masterfully switching between present-day and past, Vanessa starts to look at their relationship through the lens of the #MeToo moment, raising uncomfortable questions about consent, agency, abuse, manipulation and memory
My reviews are usually pretty lighthearted, sprinkled with gifs to explain my emotions as I read. For My Dark Vanessa, lighthearted didn't seem fair. Gifs didn't seem appropriate. Reviewing this book also doesn't seem fair, but I will do my best. This book was beautifully written, let me start with that. There were moments I completely forgot I was reading, and when I looked up, I had to take a second for my brain to realize that I wasn't IN the story. Books that can transport me to the world they are written about are my favorites. This one was no different. We're barely a month into 2023 and I have trouble believing any other book I read this year will be able to top it.
However, as beautifully written as this story was, the subject matter was almost too much to handle. If I'd had a daughter, I don't think I would have been able to read this book. It's that heartbreaking. There were moments that made me physically sick to my stomach. I would cringe and toss the book down as if it were something that was physically trying to hurt me. In some way, I think it was.
My heart aches for Vanessa as she struggles to cope with the damage that Strane has done to her. She was so deep into that messed up situation that she was willing to defend him no matter what. Even as her mind and her body fought against him, he had her convinced that it was her fault. He gaslit and manipulated her so extensively, that even as an adult she couldn't see the truth.
It hurt to read.
Reading her confuse this horrific abuse as love and seeing how it stunted her growth mentally and emotionally was heartbreaking. He broke her and then discarded her when she was too old for his sick fantasies. There were so many times I wanted to reach into the book and push Strane in front of a moving vehicle.
This story was a perfect example of how abuse can bleed all over every aspect of your life. It can eat away at the light parts of you until everything that is left is dark and broken. Strane gaslighting was subtle, if you weren't paying attention, you would miss it. Making it that much easier to fall victim to it. He was a master manipulator, even until the very end.
To answer the question in the synopsis, NO an adult cannot have two teenage loves. An adult cannot have ANY teenage loves.
Do I recommend this book? I want to say yes but with this caveat: make sure you protect yourself. If you are vulnerable to abuse or topics surrounding child molestation, rape, and abuse then you should steer very clear of this book. Read something else. If you don't think you can stomach it, by all means, don't try.
If you have a daughter around Vanessa's age, don't do it. This story will have you wanting to slap all of her teachers in the face. It had me wanting to slap teachers and I don't have any kids of my own yet.
So, there you have it, My Dark Vanessa. A beautifully written story that is guaranteed to break your heart into thousands of little bloody pieces.
If you decide to read it, please come back and tell me what you think. Or you can find me on Instagram and Facebook. I'd love to know your thoughts.
Until then, happy reading babes!