NEIU Independent | My Dark Vanessa book review
My Dark Vanessa, written by Kate Elizabeth Russel, is a book about the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse. The year is 2000 and Vanessa Wye, a 15-year-old student recently transferred to boarding school, is manipulated by her English teacher, Jacob Strane. Seventeen years later, Wye, now an adult, is still grappling with the repercussions of what happened, with a tinge of denial, even as a former Strane student cries out about who Strane is on the networks. social. Over the course of the book, it flashes back to her life before and after Strane started abusing her, leading to the point where she had to quit her school, because of Strane.
Wye is not what you call a “perfect victim,” a myth that is perpetrated in response to sexual assault. As the book was centered on his life, we are aware of his inner thoughts, some of which are difficult to understand, as at times Wye would go so far as to defend Jacob, even telling him about his students. Yet there is a clear distinction between how much the situation has affected her and how in denial she is because of it.
There are several commentaries on rape culture in this book, as there are different responses to what Wye is going through, and later Taylor Birch, who compared to Wye went through a less brutal situation with Strane, but she was more candid about what Strane did to Birch. It also highlights how complicit certain institutions are in how they respond to certain cases, given how long Strane was able to stay on as a teacher after what happened to Vanessa.
It was a difficult book to read in one sitting, due to the way Russel’s detailed prose makes what happened to Wye very realistic, the manipulations Strane put him through early in their acquaintance, as well as the sexually explicit scenes. There was one scene in particular where Wye has a sexual encounter with Strane, and while she was going through the assault, the thoughts she had throughout were very disheartening to see, as is clear, even if she doesn’t didn’t want to admit that, she didn’t want to go through with it.
It was also hard to see how much Wye depended on the romance of his relationship with Strane, in part to make sense of what was happening to him. Similar to other real life situations, where there are survivors who end up denying or don’t know better. It was hard for Wye to feel when at one point she’s everything to Strane, at another point she feels that disgust.
If you plan to read this book, there are a lot of sexual assault scenes. There are additional depictions of suicide, pedophilia, gaslighting, and physical abuse. For me, it took months to go through the entire book, due to the amount of manipulation Strane did throughout the book as well as the amount of Wye that ended up in his present. If you are able to read this book, it is worth reading, and this reviewer highly recommends it to others.