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My Dark Vanessa: A Novel (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

15-year-old Vanessa’s affair with her English teacher is an all-consuming obsession that continues to haunt her into adulthood. This book lets us peer into the mind of a survivor of sexual assault and understand the complexities and far-reaching consequences of this kind of abuse. Beautifully written, heartbreaking, and completely gripping.

— From Meghara


“A hard story to read and a harder one to put down . . . a well-constructed package of dynamite.”—Stephen King

Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.

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.

About the Author

Kate Elizabeth Russell is originally from eastern Maine. She holds a PhD in creative writing from the University of Kansas and an MFA from Indiana University. My Dark Vanessa is her first novel.

Praise For…

My Dark Vanessa destroyed me. This moving, ferocious story of an all-consuming relationship between a teenager and her teacher traces not just a stolen girlhood, but the aftershocks that haunt trauma survivors years into the future. Gripping, stunningly written, and important . . . I’ve been waiting for this book.”
Julie Buntin, author of Marlena

“Russell weaves Vanessa’s memories of high school together with the social media-saturated callout culture of the present moment . . . A rich psychological study of the aftermath of abuse . . . [and] a devastating cultural portrait of enablement and the harm we allow young women to shoulder. A gut-wrenching debut.”
Kirkus (starred review)

“A deeply relevant debut novel . . . [that] enlightens even as it chills.”
Library Journal (starred review)

Product Details
ISBN: 9780062941503
ISBN-10: 006294150X
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: January 28th, 2020
Pages: 384
Language: English