Book Review – My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

An era-defining novel about the relationship between a fifteen-year-old girl and her teacher


Vanessa Wye was fifteen-years-old when she first had sex with her English teacher. She is now thirty-two and in the storm of allegations against powerful men in 2017, the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student. Vanessa is horrified by this news, because she is quite certain that the relationship she had with Strane wasn’t abuse. It was love. She’s sure of that.

Forced to rethink her past, to revisit everything that happened, Vanessa has to redefine the great love story of her life – her great sexual awakening – as rape. Now she must deal with the possibility that she might be a victim, and just one of many. Nuanced, uncomfortable, bold and powerful, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues our age.

Published 31 March 2020 by @4thestatebooks

My Dark Vanessa has attracted a lot of interest around the book community, and the likelihood is you’ve heard about it. It’s right that it’s received so much exposure as this is absolutely a book that should be read.

Telling the story of Vanessa, who at fifteen is groomed by her teacher and struggles to come to terms later in life that this was not in fact a love story, but sexual abuse and she is a victim . It’s one of the most uncomfortable books I’ve read, yet the writing is so utterly compelling that it is hard to look away.

My Dark Vanessa will certainly push your boundaries as a reader. As the mother of a fifteen year old, it horrified me. . It’s a difficult book to find the words to review. It’s excellent, but it’s also harrowing. The depths of Vanessa’s vulnerability are shattering and the anger and disgust it provokes are intense. This is a book that needs to be read. It will challenge you, unnerve you and will have you thinking about it long after you finish the last word

Thanks to the publisher and netgalley for my #gifted e-arc