Some books push a reader out of their comfort zone, this one shoved me. My Dark Vanessa is my first five-star book of 2020, and it is so well deserved.
This novel delves into the taboo relationship between a fifteen-year-old student and her forty-two-year- old English teacher. It alternates between Vanessa’s teenage years, when their relationship began, to 2017, when another student has come forward with claims of sexual abuse against the same teacher. This back and forth worked perfectly for Vanessa’s story. It allows the reader to witness everything that transpired from the very beginning, to be alongside Vanessa, and to see the relationship from her point of view. It clearly portrays the manipulative nature of abuse, the abuse itself, and the long-lasting repercussions that it had on her life.
Vanessa Wye is an interesting character. She is intelligent, quiet, melancholy, insecure, and introverted, and unfortunately, a likely target. When her teacher begins showing her extra attention, she is not only a bit uneasy but also intrigued. This isn’t the story of a young student being infatuated with a teacher. Vanessa’s feelings were complicated. She went back and forth between liking his attention, to needing their interactions, to being repulsed by him.
Even after their relationship is exposed and Vanessa’s life is forever altered, the relationship between the teacher and the student persists. Vanessa’s life seemed to revolve around their relationship, it defined her. She didn’t seem to know who she was without him. She couldn’t seem to admit that her involvement with Mr. Strane was abusive, that she was a victim. She saw herself as a consensual player, that what they had meant something. She needed it to be something different, something more than what the other victims were claiming. She needed it to be a love story.
While the subject matter is disturbing, raw, eye-opening, and haunting, this book grabbed my attention from the very beginning, kept me invested in the story, and I found myself completely glued to the pages. I could go on and on about all of the intricacies of My Dark Vanessa, but in the end, I think that it should be experienced individually. It is heartbreaking, poignant, powerful, and hopeful. It is a fabulous book by a talented new author. I won’t be forgetting Vanessa Wye anytime soon.