My Dark Vanessa

This novel is about the long term fallout from a relationship between 15-year-old Vanessa and her forty-something English teacher. Alternating between the younger Vanessa and the adult Vanessa, we are drawn into her world as she tries to make sense of her life, legitimize the relationship, and create a version of events so as not to be another victim in the #metoo movement.

This is an intense read and not for everyone. There are a lot of triggers. It makes you uncomfortable but that is not necessarily bad. Russell does an excellent job taking the reader deep into Vanessa’s mind. Witnessing Vanessa’s hurt as both a young student and as a troubled adult as she tries to make sense of her life is a deeply moving, if troubling, experience. Russel explores the psychological complexities of abuse, the tendency for women to blame themselves, and the ability to write and shape our stories to suit our needs – in this case, Vanessa’s desperate need to not be a victim.

Some topics for a book club discussion include:

  • consent
  • victimhood
  • agency
  • gaslighting
  • different reactions to the same trauma (Vanessa vs. Taylor)
  • Strane’s death
  • parental reactions
  • treatment of sexual assault victims by the media

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Publisher: New York : HarperCollins Publishers, [2020]
Available as an audiobook: yes

Reviews and Reading Guides


TBS Roundtable

Publisher Reading Guide

Book Review: My Dark Vanessa

Published by Janet