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My Dark Vanessa
Cover of My Dark Vanessa
My Dark Vanessa
A Novel
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INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

"[An] exceedingly complex, inventive, resourceful examination of harm and power." —The New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice

"A lightning rod . . . brilliantly crafted."—The Washington Post

A most anticipated book by The New York Times USA Today • Entertainment Weekly Marie Claire • Elle Harper's BazaarBustle • Newsweek • New York Post • Esquire • Real Simple • The Sunday Times The Guardian

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.

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

"[An] exceedingly complex, inventive, resourceful examination of harm and power." —The New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice

"A lightning rod . . . brilliantly crafted."—The Washington Post

A most anticipated book by The New York Times USA Today • Entertainment Weekly Marie Claire • Elle Harper's BazaarBustle • Newsweek • New York Post • Esquire • Real Simple • The Sunday Times The Guardian

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.

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About the Author-
  • Kate Elizabeth Russell is originally from eastern Maine. She holds a PhD in creative writing from the University of Kansas and an MFA from Indiana University. My Dark Vanessa is her first novel.

Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    Starred review from September 1, 2019

    DEBUT At age 15, Vanessa had a relationship with her 42-year-old English teacher, Jacob Strane, who claims to love her for her emotional intelligence and creative writing abilities. At least that's what she tells us nearly two decades later, when another student has called out Strane for their sexual activity and starts a social media firestorm. It also starts Vanessa thinking. She had always believed that she and Strane shared true love and defends him now against this student's so-called lies, but what really happened? Vanessa must decide whether she was a victim or willing participant, which of course raises the question of how willing you can be at age 15 in an unequal power relationship. As Vanessa slowly unpacks what happened, we see her youthful and ongoing denial, the impact of events on her still unsure self, how sedulous Strane was in drawing her in, how unabashed he remains, how much she needed and still needs to believe they had something special, and how she still takes Strane as a measure. VERDICT A deeply relevant debut that the author has been writing since age 16, drawing on her own experiences, and the reading enlightens even as it chills. [See Prepub Alert, 7/1/19.]--Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    September 1, 2019
    The #MeToo movement forces a struggling young woman to confront the abusive relationship that defines her sexual and romantic past. At 15, Vanessa Wye falls for her English teacher at Browick, a private boarding school. Jacob Strane is 42, "big, broad, and so tall that his shoulders hunch as though his body wants to apologize for taking up so much space." Strane woos Vanessa with Nabokov's novels, Plath's poetry, and furtive caresses in his back office. "I think we're very similar, Nessa," Strane tells her during a one-on-one conference. "I can tell from the way you write that you're a dark romantic like me." Soon, Vanessa is reveling in her newfound power of attraction, pursuing sleepovers at Strane's house, and conducting what she feels is a secret affair right under the noses of the administration. More than 15 years later, at the height of the #MeToo movement, Taylor Birch, another young woman from Browick, publicly accuses Strane of sexual abuse. When a young journalist reaches out to Vanessa to corroborate Taylor's story, Vanessa's world begins to unravel. "Because even if I sometimes use the word abuse to describe certain things that were done to me, in someone else's mouth the word turns ugly and absolute....It swallows me and all the times I wanted it, begged for it," Vanessa tells herself. Russell weaves Vanessa's memories of high school together with the social media-saturated callout culture of the present moment, as Vanessa struggles to determine whether the love story she has told about herself is, in fact, a tragedy of unthinkable proportions. Russell's debut is a rich psychological study of the aftermath of abuse, and her novel asks readers both to take Vanessa's assertions of agency at face value and to determine the real, psychological harm perpetrated against her by an abusive adult. What emerges is a devastating cultural portrait of enablement and the harm we allow young women to shoulder. "The excuses we make for them are outrageous," Vanessa concludes about abusive men, "but they're nothing compared with the ones we make for ourselves." A gut-wrenching debut.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from September 16, 2019
    Russell offers readers an introspective narrative that fully captures the complexity and necessity of the #MeToo movement in her powerful debut. In the year 2000, Vanessa Wye is a lonely sophomore at Maine’s Browick boarding school. The academically gifted 15-year-old professes not to mind her solitude, especially when her 42-year-old English teacher, Jacob Strane, begins to pay attention to her, remarking on her red hair and fashion sense, and lending her some of his favorite books—including Nabokov’s Lolita. Almost before Vanessa realizes what’s happening, the two have embarked on a sexual relationship, and Vanessa is convinced she’s been singled out as someone truly special—until, under threat of exposure, their relationship begins to go off the rails. Seventeen years later, Vanessa is still occasionally in contact with Jacob, but their relationship has grown tense, as another former student has gone public about his inappropriate advances. Russell’s novel, alternating between past and present, presents a damning indictment of sexual predation, as she starkly elucidates the ways in which abuse robbed Vanessa not only of her childhood but also of her own once-promising future. It also prompts readers to interrogate their own assumptions about victimhood, consent, and agency. This is a frighteningly sharp debut. Agent: Hillary Jacobson, ICM Partners.

  • Booklist

    November 1, 2019
    In the year 2000, high-school sophomore Vanessa returns to her Maine boarding school, Browick, still deflated from last year's falling-out with her best friend. Encouraged to pick up an extracurricular activity, she joins the creative-writing club helmed by her English teacher, Mr. Strane. Soon he is just Strane, a fortysomething man who compliments her poems and the color of her hair, introduces her to Lolita and Poe's "Annabel Lee," and touches her knee when no one's looking. She falls for him, hard. In the other time line in Russell's debut, it's 2017, Vanessa is working in a hotel, and a younger Browick alum has just publicly accused Strane of sexual misconduct while she was a student. A bomb dropped halfway through the novel impacts both story lines significantly. Narrating in present tense, Vanessa is easy to sympathize with, and her story is hard to stop reading. On another level, Russell realistically portrays how this sort of thing could happen?Strane's diabolical manipulation, Vanessa's confused love?even as Vanessa can't see it or understand how it hurts her. Empathetic, incendiary, and discussable.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: With dozens of international rights sold and a massive publicity campaign, this is being touted as a defining novel of the #MeToo era.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

  • Los Angeles Times "Exquisite . . . My Dark Vanessa stands on its own as simultaneously specific and universal—about a young woman who believes she's in a love story when she's actually in a psychological horror film."
  • People, Book of the Week "This timely, riveting debut illuminates the interplay between a child's heartbreaking confusion and the deepest perversions of power."
  • Gillian Flynn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Gone Girl "A brilliant and stunning debut, My Dark Vanessa is utterly truth-rattling, humane in its clarity and chilling in its resonance. An absolute must read."
  • Julie Buntin, author of Marlena "My Dark Vanessa destroyed me. This moving, ferocious story of an all-consuming relationship between a teenager and her teacher traces not just a stolen girlhood, but the aftershocks that haunt trauma survivors years into the future. Gripping, stunningly written, and important . . . I've been waiting for this book."
  • Lily King, bestselling author of Euphoria "My Dark Vanessa is a harrowing triumph. Complex, smart, and utterly riveting from start to finish, Kate Elizabeth Russell's debut novel cracks open assumptions and clichés, and delivers a layered, nuanced narrative that is vital for a more thorough understanding of the extent and longevity of the damage wrought by sexual abuse. Be prepared for a pit in your stomach, a lump in your throat, and reading late into the night."
  • Kristen Roupenian, bestselling author of You Know You Want This: “Cat Person” and Other Stories "My Dark Vanessa is a total masterpiece of tone and point of view, even more impressive for how uninvested it seems in impressing us. It's fascinating and devastating and brilliant. I loved it."
  • Esquire, The Best Books Coming Out This Winter "My Dark Vanessa is a singular achievement—a masterpiece of tension and tone that will simultaneously grip you, horrify you, and move you . . . . With utmost sensitivity and vivid, gut-churning detail, Russell illuminates Vanessa's struggle to see the story of her life for the tragedy it truly is. Before you start My Dark Vanessa, clear your schedule for the next few days—this . . . will utterly consume you."
  • NPR "Explosive . . . a significant addition to the necessary reassessments and conversations sparked by the #MeToo movement."
  • The Economist "Gripping and unsettling . . . a bracingly uncompromising book. It will doubtless be devoured with an ache of recognition by large numbers of women. But it really ought to be read by men."
  • Vogue "As powerful as it is painful, and deserves its reputation as one of the defining books of the #MeToo era."
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