Preview Reviews: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Preview Reviews: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Nuanced, uncomfortable, bold and powerful, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues our age. It is an era-defining novel about the relationship between a fifteen-year-old girl and her teacher.

Read our Preview reviewer thoughts here:

Dark Vanessa is very as the title tells you – very dark! But so moving and a book that you would be mistaken for thinking is a true story written by the author. It’s a book I truely believe should be put into high schools around the world. It’s very relevant to the current world we live in and is so wonderfully written. It will be a book I will be recommending everyone to read. – Sarah, QLD, 5 stars

Tough emotional read that kept you wanting to read more to see if Vanessa may save herself. Mr. Strane a 40 something year old teacher exploits his 15-year-old student, Vanessa. I found the book hard to read but couldn’t put it down. It was just one of those books that you had to keep reading. Issues of consent, rape, power and control were covered in this book. It was a dark read for me which gave me a new insight to controversial issues on consensual relationships and age gaps and how grooming occurs. I probably will look differently now to people I encourter that get into similar situations. My dark Vanessa is a good book to read but not for the faint hearted. – Maria, SA, 4 stars

What an incredible first novel by the author Kate Elizabeth Russell, I could not put this book down and with two young kids I still managed to read this in a couple of days. The book is magnetic, raw, emotive and challenged my perspective on the topic of abuse. Vanessa is 15 when she is lured into a ‘relationship’ with her teacher Mr Strane. The book is written from the perspective of Vanessa, who is not the typical victim of abuse and doesn’t view her experiences as such, this makes the book a challenging read but it’s enthralling and captivating. – Emma, VIC, 4 stars

The subject matter of this book is hard to read about and prospective readers need to be warned that the content centres on child sexual and emotional abuse. Dark, compelling, challenging, this is a piece of gripping, nuanced, well constructed, if disturbing, writing about a young, isolated girl and her relationship with her English teacher. It makes for unhappy reading as the grooming is apparent and the unhealthy, inappropriate relationship turns sexual very quickly and it leaves a lasting impact on all parties: Vanessa herself, the teacher, her parents, and other schoolchildren. I can’t say I “enjoyed” reading it: it was too discomforting and thought provoking and I am sure that it will be a conversation piece for many. Thanks to Better Reading for the uncomfortable read. – Pamela, VIC, 5 stars

This is one of the hardest books I’ve ever reviewed because I have such strong feelings and I don’t want to articulate them wrongly. It’s a deeply uncomfortable book to read. It covers issues like consent, grooming, victim-shaming, teenage sexuality and love. Told from Vanessa’s perspective we as readers get to see her relationship with a teacher three times her age when she was just fifteen and how that has impacted on her current self as a thirty two year old woman. I enjoyed this book – but it also constantly made me feel uneasy – because of how relevant and relatable it is. I could completely understand how Vanessa felt and it broke my heart reading her story. The author has done an incredible job at delivering a story that makes the reader feel so much for Vanessa. It is disturbing. And brings up the topic of age and consent (as well as a myriad of other issues) in beautifully written and horrifying way. I wouldn’t recommend for anyone triggered by rape or sexual abuse but this is an interesting book which examines sex and consent in a pre- and post #metoo society. – Kate, QLD, 4 stars

If I had known how dark this was going to be I wouldn’t have asked to review it. But I’m not sorry at all. Powerful and confrontational. What a read. I feel like I know what it’s like to be in a paedophilia relationship as a 15 year old. Vanessa is a very unreliable narrative. I was completely in her head the complete book. As a outsider completely revolted by Strane. This is a book all about power; Vanessa thinks she’s got it but I think we know she’s powerless. But the fact I’m questioning it makes me think this is an incredible book. ‘you can’t rape the willingly’ I think I’ll be thinking about this book for along time to come – Anna, NSW, 5 stars

Wow. My Dark Vanessa definitely tested my comfort levels with its dark and chilling subject matter but I found it to be a compelling, valuable and necessary read. This novel will draw you in, unsettle and disturb you and at times make you sick to your stomach but it will keep you absorbed as it explores the dynamics of grooming, the issues of power, consent, manipulation and abuse. Through Vanessa’s perspective as a 15 year old and in her 30s we see firsthand how easy it is to fall victim to grooming and the devastating long-term effects that her teacher’s predatory behaviour has on her. The writing is raw, visceral and packs quite a punch and is a fantastic debut novel for Kate Elizabeth Russell, she has tackled a difficult subject extremely well. My Dark Vanessa will certainly make you think, it will encourage discussion and it will leave you with a lasting impression. – Maridel, NSW, 5 stars

My Dark Vanessa, by Kate Elizabeth Russell, is unlike any novel I have read before. While the book is a work of fiction, its subject matter is realistic, reflecting a dark and disturbing aspect of society. The book is written from the first-person perspective of the main character, Vanessa, who, as an adult, narrates both her present-day life and her life as a teenager and young adult. We witness events as Vanessa becomes the victim of grooming, manipulation and abuse from a male teacher, gaining insight into her thought processes as she attempts to deal with the ramifications into adulthood. We also learn something of the ways in which the teacher, Jacob Strane, to justifies his evil deeds to himself, to his victims, and to society. Some aspects of the story are so disturbing that, at one point, I felt too sick to continue reading. I considered abandoning the book but am glad that I persevered. The story is well written and complex, challenging the reader to the core. It is a story that needs to be told. – Alison, QLD, 5 stars

I found My Dark Vanessa to be an extremely hard book to read, don’t get me wrong I loved it but I also felt like I was witnessing private and unthinkable things. I really wanted to just wrap my arms around Vanessa, both the child and Adult versions and protect her. Vanessa missed so many chances in school to have forged friendships which would have saved her from Strane and given her a completely different life. Strane showed how easy it is to twist every little detail in order to manipulate a person for their benifit. Vanessa will stay with me for a very long time. My Dark Vanessa is a book every woman should read. – Deanne, VIC, 4 stars

While the book is very well written, the subject matter was too dark for me to fully enjoy. – Cassandra, NSW, 2 stars

Utterly disturbing and impossible to put down. Books like this are so important, not only in the #MeToo era, but as a reminder that such breaches of trust are committed every day around the world and we must continue to spread awareness of what such acts truly are. – Emma, VIC, 5 stars

Kate Elizabeth Russell’s first novel leaves a lasting impression. My Dark Vanessa is a dark and confronting novel that vividly portrays trauma and complex issues. Her narrative is gripping and the ability to portray her characters in the way that she does, shows the complicated reality in these powerful themes. Through the character of Vanessa she leaves the reader understanding the change in emotions and thoughts along this journey of events and what takes place is authentic and believable. Alternating the chapters between past and present allows the reader to understand the circumstances that led the characters to be where they are in the present. Unfortunately in this day and age it is a book that gives insight into the challenges that some children face. So although it is a confronting and extremely disturbing novel at times, it does portray an insight into this relevant issue. I look forward to reading another novel from Kate Elizabeth Russell. – Christine, WA, 4 stars

Although a very dark story that I thought I wouldn’t like – I found I couldn’t stop picking the book up and reading just a bit more. I ended up really sinking my teeth into this book. The flashbacks although a little confusing to start with gave substance to Vanessa and her past and made me as a reader really feel for her. An interesting read about predators behaviour and making victims feel “special” – Kim, NSW, 4 stars

A must read, BRILLIANT, POWERFUL, WOW. I had a hard time writing my review for this book as I wanted to do it the justice it deserved.  I found this  book at times dark, depressing and very hard to read yet impossible to not keep reading.  This is a sensitive subject, and Kate Russell managed to tell this story in such a wonderful true to life way.  If this is a debut novel I will certainly be looking out for her in the future.  This book has stayed with me as it will most readers.  A great book club read. My Dark Vanessa will be talked about by many.  It was hard for me to like Vanessa yet my heart went out to her again and again. Read it, you will not be disappointed. Thank you Better Reading a book that may have gone under my radar, so pleased to have had the opportunity to read this book. – Debbie, VIC, 5 stars

Vanessa is a 15 year old student when she is sexually abused by her 42 year old teacher. Vanessa thinks this is love and she is lolled and manipulated into thinking that their relationship is truly what love is. We see Vanessa years later as an adult. She is not well adjusted and the abuse had clearly taken its toll on her. When another victim outs Strane, Vanessa is forced to look back on her life and redefine what she thought was the love of her life. My Dark Vanessa is a deeply disturbing story. Timely in the current MeToo era. Right from the start it is obvious, from an adult’s point of view, that Vanessa is being groomed and reading it sends a chill through your body. My Dark Vanessa is a story of manipulation, abuse of power and turning a blind eye. It is not only the perpetrator who is at fault here. Knowing adults need to speak up for children and denounce this behaviour. – Veronica, NSW, 5 stars

A disturbing but very compelling read. The author captures the vulnerability of a quiet loner teenager and how they can be manipulated and targeted by those in a position of power. The book is extremely well written with a strong voice of the main character Vanessa. – Sharon, NSw, 4 stars

I was not sure what to expect when I picked up “My Dark Vanessa” by Kate Elizabeth Russell, so I was surprised that I enjoyed it so much! The story follows the titular character, Vanessa, who is dealing with the fact that the teacher she had a relationship in high school has been accused by another woman of abuse. As the narrator, readers quickly get to know Vanessa through her present day thoughts and flashbacks to her time in school when the relationship with her teacher began. Vanessa comes off as an emotional and psychologically damaged character that is trying to come to terms with the decisions both she and others have made. The novel looks at some very difficult and uncomfortable subject matter, and Russell really emphasises the emotional impact that the allegations are having on the main character. Despite the subject matter, I found this book easy to read and extremely engaging. – Emma, NSW, 3 stars

This book was confronting from the very first few pages. While I knew the subject matter, I wasn’t prepared for how this theme would actually shape the narrative and personally found it quite confronting. You may want to put on a suit of armour before reading if you are sensitive. I appreciate the concept and how this content is relevant in the world we live in, but I couldn’t get past the first few pages sadly. – Lucy, NSW, 2 stars

I have such praise for Kate Elizabeth Russell. My Dark Vanessa had me from the very beginning. For such a dark and polarising subject matter, I was hooked. I have yet to find a novel on this subject that I have enjoyed so much. The closest I have come is My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent. My Dark Vanessa follows the story of Vanessa, a fifteen-year-old school girl attending boarding school a few hours away from her hometown. She is a little disorganized, has very little friends and finds herself quickly becoming a “teacher’s pet” to her forty-something-year-old English teacher, Jacob Strane. Kate Elizabeth Russel cleverly cuts between past an present in her writing and drawers on the emotions of each character. As a reader, you can see how each character is feeling even if you don’t agree with their point of view. Such a great novel, not one for the faint-hearted. 5 stars. – Hannah, NT, 5 stars

This story is about abuse, The story alternates between now 2017 and then 2000 when Vanessa is just 15 years old,– she has no friends, is extremely shy and introverted, and very lonely, thus begins the grooming. I found the beginning of their “relationship” extremely disturbing and uncomfortable to read, the little touches here and there, the looks, the poems he gave her which he said reminded him of her. At times I felt like a voyeur reading someone’s private diary. Vanessa didn’t feel abused or felt that they had done anything wrong at all, and they still continue to be in contact even though it is now only as “friends” as Vanessa said herself, she is no longer young enough for a sexual relationship, however throughout the novel you can feel her struggle with “the relationship” and what it meant. “I just really need it to be a love story……“Because if it’s not a love story, then what is it?”. The writing was incredibly easy to read and whilst I struggled with the storyline, I love the author’s tone and language choices. You enjoy a good book, however a great book makes you feel something, and that what this book did for me, I felt angry, disgusted and incredibly sad. It is not an easy book to read but it is absolutely worth it. Highly recommend this outstanding debut novel. – Lisa, TAS, 5 stars

I underestimated this book. What a disturbing, dark and uncomfortable read this was, yet I couldn’t stop turning the pages! I found myself so angry, horrified, wanting horrible things to happen to Jacob. I wanted desperately to reach out to save Vanessa, yet shake her at the same time for being groomed (among many other things) by such an obvious awful character, even though of course at only 15 she couldn’t see nor fully understand what it was, what he was. This is sure to be a book talked about (loudly) in 2020. A book I will be recommending to many. Thanks so much! – Jennifer, WA, 4 stars

This book was at times hard to read. Although confronting, it offers a timely perspective to allegations of sexual assault. The book was thought provoking and became a conversation starter. – Louisa, VIC, 3 stars

My Dark Vanessa was an uncomfortable read but perhaps that is what makes it a compelling one? Be prepared to spend some time processing the story, it stays with you long after you’ve finished it. – Janelle, NSW, 3 stars

Dark, powerful and deeply disturbing Vanessa’s story is told in two timelines as a fifteen year old teenager and then at age thirty-two. I found this story to be utterly disturbing but impossibly hard to put down. This is the thought provoking and complex story of a fifteen year old student Vanessa Wye and the dark ongoing relationship with her forty-two year old English teacher Jacob Strane. A masterful portrayal of manipulation, grooming and abuse disguised as love. What’s additionally distressing is that the victim here did not realise she was a victim, this is her ‘LOVE STORY’, it just makes you want to scream! Vanessa and Jacob’s relationship was toxic and dysfunctional. Jacob was a vile monster, he was a master manipulator who often played the victim, Vanessa was a bright but unsuspecting student, a teacher’s pet. At thirty two years of age, a sequence of explosive events leads Vanessa to reflect on her past relationship with Jacob. This story just seemed so real to me as if it was someone’s actual true story… it was so powerful, beautifully written and memorable. I find it hard to give it the review it deserves. Wow what a gem of a debut novel for Kate Elizabeth RusselI, you just know it will be a best seller, a must read! – Gloria, SA, 5 stars

My Dark Vanessa is a confronting and powerful read. At age 32, in the wake of abuse allegations against a former teacher, Vanessa, tangles with coming to terms that she was, in fact, a victim, rather than part of a beautiful tragedy of forbidden love. Jacob Strane tells her early in the relationship “I’m going to ruin you”. As the story progresses Vanessa starts to understand what this means and how his actions, behaviour and attentions shaped the way her life turned out. Moving between her past experiences and being forced to relive these as an adult the story flows easily between the two periods of Vanessa’s life. The book explores the somewhat unsavoury thought of at what point does a teacher/student relationship move from being abuse to being a consenting relationship between two willing parties, particularly given Vanessa’s realisation of the power she has a precocious young girl on the cusp of womanhood. A story that is difficult to pick up and impossible to put down. – Margaret Mary, WA, 4 stars

A captivating and confronting read, at times you wanted to scream through the pages at the main character, who was frustratingly in denial about her experience. – Georgia, VIC, 4 stars

I am completely blown away by this book. It explores the tough subject of an inappropriate relationship between student and teacher. It filled me with intense discomfort and unease, yet it has become one of my favourite books of 2019. – Jenny, VIC, 5 stars

By all rights I should hate My Dark Vanessa, but I do not. It is the story of a lonely fifteen-year-old girl and the much older teacher who grooms her for sex. Years after their “relationship” ends other women come forward to say “me too” and she is forced to re-evaluate the past, to address the trauma bonding that did occur, that is still affecting her life. As much as Jacob’s treatment of Vanessa made me angry, I was still in awe of the complexity of the writing and found myself seduced by sentences and thoughts, and by Vanessa herself. I highly recommend My Dark Vanessa to anyone who likes to delve into the dark side of humanity. – Danielle, QLD, 4 stars

Not the subject matter I would normally read, and if I read the cover I would not have purchase. It was better that I thought, sad and thought provoking, the characters were all believable and I found myself getting involved in the story line. Well written – Lynette, NSW, 3 stars

Kate Elizabeth Russell has delivered a gripping story that challenges the reader to empathize with Vanessa, the main protagonist, who is in a situation which is not seen as socially acceptable. Spanning nearly two decades, Vanessa grapples with her experience, its emotional toll and the impact is has had on her life, continually questioning herself – was it or wasn’t it? It is equal parts uncomfortable and  compelling but one hundred percent brilliant. – Kasey, QLD, 4 stars

I always love receiving and reading new books, about new subjects I wouldn’t normally read. It opens your mind and takes you out of your comfort zone. This book certainly took me out of my comfort zone. I can’t say I really liked it as it seemed to be a book that is getting in on wave of events happening around the world. Don’t get me wrong, these events should be talked about and read about but I found this book a little bit disturbing and thought it became a bit mundane in parts and other parts I thought were unnecessary and crude. The subject is a subject we need to hear and read about and I did like the format of past and present. Although I found the ending was an easy way out for both characters. It is not a book I would recommend to my family and friends unfortunately. – Donna, TAS, 2 stars

My Dark Vanessa should come with a trigger warning. Anyone thinking of reading this book should know that it deals with some extremely difficult content. Vanessa was fifteen when she first had sex with her English teacher. She thought it was love. Now, she is being forced to redefine everything she thought she knew. This book deals with themes including consent, power, manipulation, rape and trauma. It is an incredibly powerful, dark, confronting and thought provoking story. I found this book incredibly hard to read. I often felt uncomfortable, angry, frustrated and sad. However, it is an excellent book. The story is well written and insightful. It addresses content that needs to be talked about and is unapologetic about doing so. This book will stay with me for a very long time. – Laura, SA, 5 stars

A gripping, tense and uncomfortable read…but I couldn’t put it down. A well written story about the abuse and grooming of a teenager from a trusted teacher, and the torment it causes the young girl for the rest of her life. – Hanadi, NSW, 4 stars

“My Dark Vanessa” is a stunningly complex exploration of a coercive relationship. It shows how people can be victimised without realising it; the realities of grooming and the impact on victims. Russell has a lot of empathy, and uses that to make us understand why a victim might not see herself as a victim, or abused, even as others are explicitly using that language. The novel is brimming with empathy for Vanessa and her situation. Strong characters and an excellent exploration of Vanessa’s inner world make for a powerful story that will move you. While it encourages a strong moral and emotional reaction, it doesn’t preach. Although it is delicate and sensitive where it needs to be, the novel never loses sight of the fact that the central relationship is indisputably wrong. I can’t exactly say that I loved this novel, because the subject matter is dark and uncomfortable. But it is an outstanding novel. Full of empathy, it gently nudges readers towards a greater understanding of victims and why they might defend their abusers. Although particularly timely at the moment of the #MeToo movement, this would be a powerful novel in any era. – Lorraine, ACT, 5 stars

This is a novel that will stay with me for a long time. Kate Elizabeth Russell crafts a complex portrayal of grooming and child abuse, putting the reader in the shoes of the distressed protagonist Vanessa. A gripping read that reflects the time we live in when enough is enough of coverups and excuses. – Chloe, ACT, 5 stars

My Dark Vanessa is a profoundly disturbing narrative of manipulation disguised as love. Beautifully written literary fiction, yet challenging like no other novel I’ve read before. The scenario is provocative, the characters emotionally charged, the content instinctively relevant. Compulsive reading that I can’t help but recommend even if it does journey into territory I’d rather not contemplate. – Theresa, qLD, 4 stars

This book was amazing! I loved the writing as it kept me so captivated. There were moments that were hard to read as Mr Strane took Vanessa’s youth from her. The struggle that she went through is something I wouldn’t want any girl to go through. It is sad that women feel they need acceptance from men by using their bodies. This book certainly opened my way of thinking about women and how we let men treat us. It was a bold and powerful story about traumatic sexual encounters that really should never have happened. I wish for any other Vanessa’s out there to realise their worth in the world and not let men make them think they are not powerful enough. Great writing and looking forward to this authors next book! – Lynne, NSW, 5 stars

My Dark Vanessa is a hauntingly intense book that will stay with you long after you have put it down. It is unflinchingly honest and raw and leaves you feeling split wide open. Told in an alternating past and present view we are shown the manipulation of a naive young girl by her teacher as well as the flow on affects to her adult life. This novel leaves you contemplating and questioning your personal views and opinions not only while reading but long after you have finished. I have not read such a well written documentation of abuse. – Mel, NSW, 5 stars

I found this book to be very emotive and confronting, which to me is the epitome of a great read, if a book can draw you in to the extent that it evokes emotions in the reader. It is a confronting and thought provoking story of the grooming of a vulnerable teenaged girl by her much older, manipulative teacher, who continues to have a “hold” over her for many years. – Jan, SA, 4 stars

This subject is normally one I would avoid as it is just not my style of reading that I enjoy. I was pleasantly surprised when I began reading this book. I could not put it down. My Dark Vanessa is a novel that makes you think about human nature. I felt so many deep emotions whilst reading this novel. It was a compelling and captivating piece of fiction that had me thinking it felt so real. It is a must read for anyone! – Aleisha, qLD, 5 stars

I didn’t enjoy this book. It was very difficult to read. I’m not sure if it is because of the way it was written or the fact that I have a 15 year old daughter and found it confronting. It really was a dark story that made for uncomfortable reading. – Kay, QLD, 3 stars

My Dark Vanessa is a compelling read. Dark and thought provoking, quite a sad storey but at the same time a well written enjoyable read. – Rachel, QLD, 4 stars

A brilliant and easy to read book despite the subject matter. It wasn’t as dark or intense as I expected. Really interesting how Vanessa perceives herself and her (continuing) relationship with Strane, she doesn’t think she is a victim or has been abused. The book explores the horrific nature of grooming and child abuse and how society reacts and who is to blame and what is considered abuse. The story is told from Vanessa’s point of view, and moves between the past, when the abuse happened, and the present, with 32 year old Vanessa being asked to tell her story to the media. A tough topic done very well. – Emily, VIC, 4 stars

It was an interesting read and kept me hooked till the end as I needed to know if Vanessa come come out ok in the end and happy. It has very dark eye opening parts based on how you can train a child to be who you want. Also about who will help you and knowing if anyone will stand with in, in a time of crisis. I really did enjoy this book and would recommend to people with an non judgemental mind. – Beth, TAS, 5 stars

Powerful portrayal of the psychological complexities of intimate relationships. Where do you draw the line between right and wrong? When does good become evil? This book truly delves into the innermost being of a teenager enveloped in love for her teacher. – Chloe, VIC, 4 stars

My Dark Vanessa uses a non-linear narrative to alternate between Vanessa’s past relationship, as a 15 year old student, and current relationship, as a thirty something woman, with her [former] teacher: Mr Strane. This book is obviously centred around a pretty sensitive concept and some parts are quite difficult and disturbing to read. From an objective perspective, Vanessa’s relationship, and the fallout from it, is (at the very least) troubling and it’s difficult to read her skewed version of these events. As much as it’s hard to accept, and filled me with sorrow, this book does shed light on the possible mindset of those who are mistreated by persons of authority. Although it’s fiction, it almost felt like it could be set in reality and it was a real eye opener for me. – Meg, VIC, 4 stars

Vanessa is a 15 year old girl at boarding school who was sexually abused by her English teacher. He groomed her from the start. She didn’t have any friends and she became involved with a sexual predator. She was too young and alone to resist his advances and she believed it was love. She suffered many years later with relationships. He told her at the beginning that he would “ruin her” and he did just that. – Vivian, ACT, 5 stars

Confronting. Raw. Powerful. – Heidi, NSW, 3 stars

Thank you Better Reading for my ARC of Kate Elizabeth Russell’s novel, My Dark Vanessa. I’m totally torn on this one. On one hand it was such a good read. I really enjoyed it. The characters were easy to relate to, plot was believable and the story progression was good. But, on the other hand… such a brave topic to write about!! Child grooming is a scary thing, but so real. Very confronting but worth the read. – Rebecca, TAS, 5 stars

“When Strane and I met, I was fifteen and he was forty two!” Vanessa, now in her 30s is in a dead end job as concierge at a Maine Hotel – guiding guests to the best places to eat, what to see and do, organising their dry cleaning BUT she is a victim who was groomed by her English high school teacher and she is still coming to terms as to what happened to her. Is it really the love story she believes or can she comes to terms with being a victim of abuse. ‘My Dark Vanessa’ is a dark story dealing with the grooming of a child and the subsequent abuse both physically and emotionally. It is such an important story to tell and so relevant with the world focus on sexual assault and the #MeToo Movement. ‘My Dark Vanessa’ alternates between Vanessa’s past and present life; her recollection of events and how she perceives the ‘relationship’ she had with Jacob Strane. It is graphic in detail, uncomfortable and painful to read but it is such a powerful story! – Karyn, ACT, 5 stars

This is so much more than the story of the ruinous relationship between 15 year old Vanessa and Mr Strane, her 42 year old teacher at the prestigious Browich boarding school. She’s a lonely misfit, a ‘dark romantic’ and perhaps a troubled girl with a teenage crush. He’s the abhorrent predator. We think we know where this is going … Debut author Kate Elizabeth Russell lays out the rules of inappropriate relationships we adhere to : the age of consent, the imbalance of power, the trauma of abuse. She doesn’t provide us with a MeToo Manifesto or a Grooming Guide. She delivers subtleties and shades that has the reader empathising with an unreliable character who has romanticised and enabled the abuse. At every age, (15, 22 and 32 years) Vanessa needs it to be a love story, whatever others thought it looked like. The relationship defined her. Despite warning signs she justifies that she was a willing participant,wielding the power. Never a victim. But psychologically Vanessa is stuck in her teenage past. Is she just spinning her life story how she can best live with it? By not exposing herself is she being selfish? This is a hard hitting novel that will open conversations and have book club membership spiking. ‘My Dark Vanessa’ is a line from a Vladimir Nabokov poem. His novel about the nymphet ‘Lolita’, used as a grooming tool by Mr Strane, was published in 1955. But only recently have victims of this abuse found their voice, perpetrators been shamed. – Anita, QLD, 5 stars

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell is a book that is sure to start conversations, especially in this era of the MeToo movement. It is the story of schoolgirl Vanessa who is sexually abused by her much older teacher, Mr Strane, and it examines sexual predation while raising questions about morality, agency, manipulation, power, rape and trauma – is it really rape if consent is given, or if, as Vanessa admits, she ‘begged for it’? What if she orgasms? And if Vanessa is fully aware of the power of her body, and eager to use it, is she any less manipulative than Strane, at that particular time? By fluctuating between two time periods – 15 year-old Vanessa and 32 year-old Vanessa – Russell is able to effectively paint a detailed portrait of the state of mind of Vanessa-the-child, and how easily she could be groomed to believe herself powerful and in love, then contrast it with the mind of Vanessa-the-woman, who is suddenly told that she is instead a victim, and must reject what she has previously believed. My Dark Vanessa is not an easy read, but it will certainly make you examine your beliefs. – Dominique, Sa, 3 stars

My Dark Vanessa is a dark, seedy and confronting page turner. A sometimes distressing glimpse into the hidden world of paedophilia. Vanessa could be any of our daughters. This novel is a relevant #MeToo story. – Kelly, QLD, 4 stars

I probably wouldn’t have picked up My Dark Vanessa if I saw it in the store or library, but I’m very glad for the opportunity to read it. I recommend it as a must read for those wanting to understand grooming. It made me think and reassess my views and assumptions, but mainly gave me an insight into how the grooming aspect of abuse will affect a life and make an abused doubt they are even a victim. This is a heartbreaking story, and one that I know has been played in real life more times than we can ever know. Wonderfully written, it encourages you to think, but doesn’t demand that you think a certain way and reach a certain conclusion. In fact, it challenges the reader, highlighting the ‘excuses we make for ourselves’, which is something that can be true in all aspects of our life. I’m still thinking about this book and it is even finding its way into my dreams. I’m sure readers will continue to think and ponder these issues long after they finish reading. I did find it a bit long, perhaps because it is so intense, but I highly recommend this for everyone to read. – Alice, NSW, 4 stars

This book is extremely hard to read very disturbing, Vanessa is a young 15 year old girl at boarding school, The book goes from the year 2000 to current day 2017 hard not to give away any spoilers but Vanessa is groomed by an older male teacher, this book was certainly an eye opener to me – Deborah, NSW, 5 stars




Read a Sample Chapter of Kate Elizabeth Russell's Brilliant Novel, My Dark Vanessa

Review | Extract

20 March 2020

Read a Sample Chapter of Kate Elizabeth Russell's Brilliant Novel, My Dark Vanessa

    My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell: Your Preview Verdict

    Review | Preview

    16 March 2020

    My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell: Your Preview Verdict

      How My Dark Vanessa Author Kate Elizabeth Russell Treats her Writing Like

      Review | Author Related

      10 March 2020

      How My Dark Vanessa Author Kate Elizabeth Russell Treats her Writing Like "It's the Most Important Thing in Your Life"

        Uncomfortable, Bold and Powerful: A Review of My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

        Review | Our Review

        9 March 2020

        Uncomfortable, Bold and Powerful: A Review of My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

          Related Articles

          Podcast: Kate Elizabeth Russell on the Sometimes Fine Line Between Coercion and Seduction


          27 January 2021

          Podcast: Kate Elizabeth Russell on the Sometimes Fine Line Between Coercion and Seduction

            Publisher details

            My Dark Vanessa
            Kate Elizabeth Russell
            01 February, 2020


            An era-defining novel about the relationship between a fifteen-year-old girl and her teacherVanessa Wye was fifteen-years-old when she first had sex with her English teacher.She is now thirty-two and the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student of his. 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. But now, in 2017, in the midst of allegations against powerful men, she is being asked to redefine the great love story of her life – her great sexual awakening – as rape.Nuanced, uncomfortable, bold and powerful, and as riveting as it is disturbing, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues our age is grappling with.
            Kate Elizabeth Russell
            About the author

            Kate Elizabeth Russell

            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. Her work has appeared in Hayden's Ferry Review, Mid-American Review, and Quarterly West, among other journals, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. This is her first novel.

            Books by Kate Elizabeth Russell


            Leave a Reply

            Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *