My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

My Dark Vanessa doesn’t hit bookshelves until January 2020, but if I had to recommend a book for pre-ordering, it would be this. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s going to be talked about a lot.

There is already quite a buzz forming about this book, where 15 year-old boarding school student Vanessa Wye is groomed and sexually abused by her 42 year-old English teacher. This is a remarkable debut from Kate Elizabeth Russell, who doesn’t hold back on the physical details.

My Dark Vanessa is a probing exploration of abuse, coercion, power and control. It is an equally uncomfortable and compelling read.

Vanessa is a solitary and often difficult teen, prone to petulance and obsessive behaviour. Jacob is a monster in plain sight. They become embroiled in a sordid and twisted relationship which will make you question the ideology of victim-hood. Vanessa struggles to see herself as a victim, believing herself to be a willing participant in her seduction. However, her adolescent memories of events prove to be unreliable and volatile. She’s simultaneously infatuated and repelled by Jacob. Their relationship mirrors substance abuse. There is a want, a need, the high thrill of illicit action, followed by the repulsive come-down.

This grave subject is navigated with extraordinary care, highlighting how these cases are anything but straightforward. They also operate on a broad spectrum of experiences, demonstrated when a fellow student comes forward with an accusation. Her experience differs greatly to Vanessa’s, as do their adult psychological responses.

Alongside this complexity is the examination of the responsibility of adults, educational institutions and the role of the media in its treatment of both victims and abusers.

I would anticipate it being a popular choice among book groups. It is a book that will produce strong reactions to the characters and subjects, and can’t fail to get people talking.