My Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell

January 23rd 2020

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.


The story moves back and forth between Vanessa’s past and present. A past where she enters a relationship with a teach 30+ years her senior and a present where people are trying to get her to talk about that relationship. In no way is this an easy read, in fact half the time I found my self squirming in my seat at some of the prose, but it was also fascinating and un-put-down-able.

For me it felt like the novel was possibly a Lolita from the girl’s point of view, maybe to the males she comes across as bold, confident and sexy but inside her is a minefield and her actions towards men have been bread from her early interactions. Had she not been involved with an older professor would she have behaved the way she did with other men? would her life have been the same or is there something dark inside her? This book makes you really question what’s going on and whether, at 15, she can really say that she did want it.

‘“I never would have done it if you weren’t so willing,” he’d said. It sounds like delusion. What girl would want what he did to me? But it’s the truth, whether anyone believes it or not.’

There is no doubting that she is a very astute and mature 15-year-old, but does that mean she fully understood what she was getting involved in? Does that make her less of a victim?

…I wasn’t pretty, I’d have to wait a long time before anyone noticed me because boys had to mature before they cared about anything else. In the meantime, apparently my only option was to wait. Like girls sitting in the bleachers at basketball games watching boys play, or girls sitting on the couch watching boys play video games. Endless waiting. It’s funny to think how wrong Mom was about all that. Because there’s another option for those brave enough to take it—bypass boys altogether, go straight to men. Men will never make you wait, men who are starved and grateful for scraps of attention, who fall in love so hard they throw themselves at your feet.

I also feel that this novel comes at a pivotal time, when there are allegations flying, and asks some serious questions, is there any point in coming forward now? what will it achieve? is it beneficial to the individual to relive it all in such a public way? Not only does it ask these questions, it reminds us that every person is different and while some may need to expose it in order to get over it for others it may well just break them.

I can see this being absolutely huge, it will divide or unite people and will absolutely be all anyone is talking about. Thank you to Net Galley & 4th Estate for the ARC.

About the Author:

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

You can also find out more about Kate and how her own experiences with older men as a teenager inspired this book at the link below


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