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.
“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.
“Russell weaves Vanessa’s memories of high school together with the social media-saturated callout culture of the present moment, as Vanessa struggles to determine whether the love story she has told about herself is, in fact, a tragedy of unthinkable proportions. . . . A gut-wrenching debut.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“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
“A deeply relevant debut novel . . . [that] enlightens even as it chills.” — Library Journal (starred review)
“My Dark Vanessa explores the sexually-charged shadow world between desire and interruption, girlhood and womanhood, coercion and complicity. It’s breathtakingly suspenseful, like downing a flaming drink without blowing it out.” — Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and The Revolution of Marina M.
“My Dark Vanessa is a hard story to read and a harder one to put down . . . a well-constructed package of dynamite.” — Stephen King
“Empathetic, incendiary, and discussable.” — Booklist
“A truly remarkable debut, deeply thoughtful, deeply emotional, compelling and disturbing in equal measure. I raced to the ending and then found the book lingered with me long after that last page. It is lingering still.” — Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
“My Dark Vanessa is a total masterpiece of tone and point of view, even more impressive for how uninvested it seems in impressing us. It's fascinating and devastating and brilliant. I loved it.” — Kristen Roupenian, bestselling author of You Know You Want This: “Cat Person” and Other Stories
“My Dark Vanessa is a harrowing triumph. Complex, smart, and utterly riveting from start to finish, Kate Elizabeth Russell’s debut novel cracks open assumptions and clichés, and delivers a layered, nuanced narrative that is vital for a more thorough understanding of the extent and longevity of the damage wrought by sexual abuse. Be prepared for a pit in your stomach, a lump in your throat, and reading late into the night.” — Lily King, bestselling author of Euphoria
“My Dark Vanessa is an unsettling and thought-provoking marvel. I was captivated by the brutal honesty of the emotion and the stark beauty of the writing. This one will stay with me forever.” — Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author of Summer of ‘69