Thank you to William Morrow books for sending me a free copy of My Dark Vanessa in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.
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.
This was one powerful book, but I do want to start off by disclaiming a trigger warning: the entire book is about grooming, sexual abuse, and rape. So if those things are difficult for you, this book is going to be difficult for you as well.
With that being said, I think that the story within these pages is a very important story to tell. And while it’s not based on a single true story, the authors note mentions that the story is based on pieces and parts from many of these true stories that have occurred over the years. The amount of power men have used against women over the years is atrocious and while this book was an uncomfortable read, I feel like it had to be that way to truly get the point across.
The chapters in this book go back and forth between Vanessa‘s high school days leading up to and into her relationship with her teacher, and 20 years in the future. This was a very smart way to write the story because it demonstrated two different things. The first, was showing the difference between how people reacted to accusations of rape even just 20 years ago versus how they react to them now. The difference is astounding. It also showed just how deeply the inappropriate relationship Vanessa had with her teacher affected her for the rest of her life. The reader gets to see just how much the relationship skewed Vanessa‘s view of men, love, and relationships forever.
And that is what I think is the most important point. A man grooming a young girl just to get sex from her is only thinking as far as the next time he can take her to bed. But he’s not thinking about how this will damage her and how it will affect her and how long the inappropriate relations will negatively affect her life. For him it’s just sex, but for the girl it is life-long trauma, and that is the big picture painted in this book.
This is one of those books that I can’t say I loved it because it was so uncomfortable but I can say that it was amazingly well written and I’m so glad I read it. These stories need to continue to be told, whether they are truth or fiction, brushing these things under the rug is no longer acceptable.