My Dark Vanessa

My Dark Vanessa
Kate Elizabeth Russell
Reviewed by Phil

We first meet Vanessa in 2017. She's 32, working as a concierge at a boutique hotel in Maine. Her life is a mess, her days punctuated by too much wine and too much weed. Allegations against Jacob Strane, her high school English teacher, have just surfaced in social media. The revelations force Vanessa to re-examine her own troubled relationship with Strane. 
Next, we see Vanessa as the bright-eyed high school student with the sparkling future. She's returning to Browick, an exclusive private high school in Maine, for her sophomore year. In her American Literature class one day, the teacher calls her to his desk to go over some of her work. Sitting side-by-side at the desk, their legs brush accidentally...

The book alternates between these two time frames, slowly revealing the careful, step-by-step coercion of the naive school girl by the manipulative teacher, and the devastating effect this has on Vanessa's future. Some readers may find this book challenging, dealing as it does with the sexual exploitation of a young and inexperienced high school student by her much older teacher. But it's much more than that. My Dark Vanessa explores themes of consent, manipulation and what it means to be a victim. It is masterfully done.

Kate Elizabeth Russell lives in Madison, Wisconsin. My Dark Vanessa is her first novel.