About the Book:
Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.
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.
“I need it to be a love story. I need it to be that.”
WOW!! I don’t think I have the words to describe how I feel about this book. With stunning writing and powerful prose, the author has written one of THE most important books of the year. I was completely entranced by the audiobook narrated by Grace Gummer, whose youthful-sounding voice perfectly captured the spirit of Vaness Wye.
Vanessa first meets her teacher Jacob Strane when she is a lonely 15-year-old attending boarding school in Maine. The reader sees that he is grooming her but to Vanessa, and in his own words, Strane is falling in love with her. With him, she feels smart, talented, special. Vanessa cannot admit to herself or to anyone later in her life that what happened what actually abuse.
“This, I think, is the cost of telling, even in the guise of fiction. Once you do, it’s the only thing about you anyone will ever care about. It defines you whether you want it to or not.”
Vanessa is not completely truthful with her family about Strane even though there are many red flags about their deepening relationship. There were many times that an adult could have stepped in but no one did. Instead Vanessa is the one whose life is altered by Strane’s actions – even though she can never use harsh words for his actions, and describes their time together as a love story.
Vanessa never paints herself as a victim because that would mean her relationship with Strane was illicit. But when years later another young student makes allegations against Strane, she is forced to confront her own past and Strane’s actions.
“I’m a survivor, too.”
That word, with its cloying empathy; that patronizing, flattening word that makes my whole body cringe no matter the context-it pushes too far.
I could not stop listening to this stunning and powerful story. The writing is exquisite! Alternating between 2000 and 2017, we can clearly see how Strane’s actions scarred her as an adult, even if Vanessa herself cannot quite recognize it.
This story is so compelling and complex that I kept stopping the audiobook to mark quotes from the book. I was COMPLETELY engrossed in this beautiful story and loved the bonus interview with the author and narrator at the end of the audiobook. Whether you read this or listen to the audiobook, make this one of your must-reads this year. Bravo to the author for this magnificent story!