Book Review: My Dark Vanessa

MY DARK VANESSA | Kate Elizabeth Russell
03.10.2020 | William Morrow
Rating: 5/5 stars


2000: Fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye has been accepted to an elite boarding school. While trying to find her place in this new school, Vanessa becomes entranced by her forty-two-year-old English teacher, Jacob Strane. They begin to have an affair.

2017: Allegations around the country against powerful men are on the rise. Jacob Strane finds himself on the receiving end, accused of sexually abusing a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa with hopes she will join her. Vanessa finds herself reflecting back on her relationship with Strane and all the things that have come from it, physically and emotionally, over the last seventeen years.


MY DARK VANESSA is a heavy, emotionally draining, yet captivating read about Vanessa Wye’s complicated past and present relationship with Jacob Strane. From the start of this book the reader is placed straight into Vanessa’s emotional feelings regarding Strane and a reflection back on how these emotions have ebbed and flowed over the course of the last seventeen years.

Kate Elizabeth Russell wisely chooses to fluctuate this captivating story through present day, 2017, and the start of Vanessa and Stranes’s relationship in 2000. The past timeline continues to move towards the future as the reader goes along for a ride through Vanessa’s past. I love that Russell took this approach, as this story became more than just a reflection into the past, but an intimate look into Vanessa’s life. The reader can feel Vanessa’s emotions pouring from the pages as they are left to make sense of their own emotional range towards the book. 


I experienced so many emotions while reading MY DARK VANESSA and I truly think that comes from the connection I was able to form with Vanessa. Seeing her as a young, vulnerable, lonely, and extremely impressionable girl and the way that Strane honed into this made me furious. There were times I wanted to throw this book across the room and yet I couldn’t put it down. I needed to know what would happen next despite how cringeworthy I found the events. Vanessa as an adult added another emotional layer into the repercussions of what happened to her as a young girl. You can feel how she has been changed by Strane and how her relationship with him impacts so many decisions she makes on a daily basis.

There are a lot of trigger warnings that come with the subject matter of this book, but I truly think it’s worth the read if you’re able to get past them. I suggest taking this one in chunks if you’re not sure about the emotional impact. I think what you’ll find is a story that is incredibly well written and unputdownable.

This book is available to buy from: Amazon | Book Depository

Disclosure: What Jess Reads is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This in no way influences my opinion of the above book.

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