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.
Date Published: March 10, 2020
Date Read: April 8, 2020
Publisher: William Morrow Books
No. of Pages: 384
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Adult
Trigger Warnings: Pedophilia, Rape, Sexual Assault
Reading this feels like watching a wreckage, logical thought would suggest you have to look away, but against all odds you just kept staring.
TRIGGER WARNING: Rape, pedophilia, sexual assault.
My Dark Vanessa is the kind of read that will make your skin crawl. You will feel uncomfortable and bothered by what transpired between Vanessa and Strane. It has this inexplicable pull, its reader dare I say, a willing victim. Its darkness is all consuming and powerful, like you’re under an immense grey cloud hovering above you for days. Reading this feels like watching a wreckage, logical thought would suggest you have to look away, but against all odds you just kept staring. It will leave you with unsettling feeling, a feeling you cannot simply shake off. A book that will stay with you for however long you like it. Impactful and so beautifully written. A narrative that needs to be said no matter how ugly it was. I kept telling myself its fiction, but who am I kidding, these unspeakable things can happen or is happening to so many girls out there. That’s why it is so bothersome and depressing to read.
My Dark Vanessa is a book that will challenge you. Not an easy read. Not a book I would typically reach out, nor a book I would read during this pandemic. I first listened to on audio from Scribd, and I tell you it has the most talented narrator.Listening to it sends a different kind of chill – a whole new level of horror. The reading experience magnified and heightened 10x more. It will suck you in like a vortex. A tip to maximize your reading experience, listen to audio while reading the book. That’s a sure way to ingrain the book inside your pretty head. It was a harrowing read from beginning to end. My Dark Vanessa brought chills as I listen through Vanessa’s ordeal with what had transpired when she was 15, and how it affected her and her disposition throughout her adult life. Kate Elizabeth Russell’s writing style was precise, lucid and not too overwrought with unnecessary description of a place or a person, which somehow works really well in the book. It was able to send its chilling message across without sounding pretentious. My Dark Vanessa dumped love, consent, complicity, rape and manipulation in murky water making it hard to distinguish one from the other. Thought provoking at best.
The complicated characters, especially the narrator – Vanessa, gave so much depth to the book, making it more repulsive and graphic but also will give you a feeling you just couldn’t quite place, like sympathy and pity. Vanessa, was an enigma, (just how Henry Plough said it), her character so complex. You couldn’t quite guess what would be her reaction to certain things. There is darkness within her that is very hard to fathom, a kind of darkness that follows her, looms over everything she touches. Jacob Strane’s character is predatory and manipulative, but the book was able to paint him in a certain light that shows he is so much more than what he is. From this you will understand why Vanessa reacted the way she did or how Vanessa regarded Strane, on why she always puts him in a pedestal. It was frustrating to read, and yet the book was not amiss to lay down the foundation of Vanessa’s character, which was riddled with misplaced maturity and boldness.
I cannot in good conscience haphazardly recommend this book to whoever asks for literary fiction recommendation, I believe you have to set the trigger warnings first and always proceed with caution. It is a hard read, and I know not everyone would like it. A challenging read with sensitive topic but ultimately needed to be addressed. You have to have the proper mind set delving into this one. It will hit you differently, unpleasant at times, yet you will develop some profound understanding.
Kate Elizabeth Russell definitely made her mark with this debut. Now I have high expectations from her. Best believe I will be looking forward to more of her writing.
“Girls in those stories are always victims, and I am not. And it doesn’t have anything to do with what Strane did or didn’t do to me when I was younger. I’m not a victim because I never wanted to be, and If I didn’t want to be, then I’m not. That’s how it works. The difference between rape and sex is state of mind. You can’t rape the willing, right?” ― Kate Elizabeth Russell, My Dark Vanessa
May is Asian Heritage Month and what best way to celebrate it than to read all the Asian books. Looking at the books I have read so far this year, it pains me to admit that I haven’t been reading quite diversely. My need to read anything I like often wins more than the necessity to read more diverse books. There’s nothing wrong with reading the books you like, let me straighten that out. After all, reading should be something comforting and familiar. It is just my personal goal to read more diverse books, and I felt like I haven’t been acing that one lately. Now what pushed me to do this? Aside from the need to read more diversely, I felt the need to celebrate Asian Authors and their huge contribution to the literary world. This may or may not be affected by the recent book twitter issue involving a white author and a Filipina author. Would not delve on that issue since that isn’t my point here. My point is, Asian Authors are not given much love and recognition as opposed to white authors, and that is a bitter pill to swallow. And as an Asian myself, I think it is my duty to support and celebrate Asian authors (because frankly, Asians are cool, nope, not up for debate) the best way I know how.
Adding the fact that we are in an unprecedented time and we are coping the best way we can, I would like to take this opportunity to take you with me in combating this boredom and the pressing anxiety brought by this isolation. It is not easy to navigate life in this “new” normal, sometimes I want to indulge myself into some bouts of crying. Haha. But seriously, if you feel unmotivated, uninspired, anxious or afraid, your feelings are perfectly valid and you are entitled to feel all of it. If you don’t feel like doing anything, or you don’t want to read a book, or participate in anything productive, that is perfectly fine too. We cope differently, do whatever you need to help you get through each day!
I am happy to learn that my little #StanAsianAuthor plan for May coincides with Read With Cindy ‘s 2020 Asian Readathon which is basically gearing towards the same goal – read all the Asian books!!! So yayy that is me hitting two birds with one stone! Here’s the master list of Asian Books (click here) curated by her. The master list is extensive and very helpful! I love love love it! If you wish to join Read With Cindy and/or me, you can use #StanAsianAuthors and #AsianReadathon on your socials!
I know everyone doesn’t have access to a lot of books, but I hope you can take this time to read those books sitting on your shelves for a little while now. I could also suggest Scribd for a wide variety of ebooks and audiobooks ( I live for their audio books selection!). The last time I checked, Scribd is still offering free month subscription to help us cope during this uncertain time. A sentence review on Scribd: I ‘ve been abusing it like crazy and loving every minute of it!
I also have curated the books I am planning to read. This is quite ambitious for me, since I am not a fast reader and I get easily distracted. Let’s just say I would be happy to read at least 4 of this. I am also planning to listen to some audiobooks and have plans as well to read on my kindle (since I tend to read faster on kindle). Below are the synopsis of the books I am planning to read:
1. Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
Tsukiko is drinking alone in her local sake bar when by chance she meets one of her old high school teachers and, unable to remember his name, she falls back into her old habit of calling him ‘Sensei’. After this first encounter, Tsukiko and Sensei continue to meet. Together, they share edamame beans, bottles of cold beer, and a trip to the mountains to eat wild mushrooms. As their friendship deepens, Tsukiko comes to realise that the solace she has found with Sensei might be something more.
2. Singapore Love Stories by Verena Tay
What does it mean to love and be loved in Singapore?
Singapore Love Stories is a vibrant collection of seventeen stories that delves into the diverse love lives of Singapore’s eclectic mix of inhabitants. From the HDB heartlander to the Sentosa millionaire, the privileged expatriate to the migrant worker, the accidental tourist to the reluctant citizen, the characters in this anthology reveal an array of perspectives of love found in the island city-state.
Leading Singaporean and Singapore-based writers explore the best and worst of the human condition called love, including grief, duplicity and revenge, self-love, filial love, homesickness and tragic past relationships. Collectively, the stories in this anthology reveal the many ways in which love can be both a salve and a wound in life.
3. In The Country by Mia Alvar
These nine globe-trotting, unforgettable stories from Mia Alvar, a remarkable new literary talent, vividly give voice to the women and men of the Filipino diaspora. Here are exiles, emigrants, and wanderers uprooting their families from the Philippines to begin new lives in the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere—and, sometimes, turning back again.
A pharmacist living in New York smuggles drugs to his ailing father in Manila, only to discover alarming truths about his family and his past. In Bahrain, a Filipina teacher drawn to a special pupil finds, to her surprise, that she is questioning her own marriage. A college student leans on her brother, a laborer in Saudi Arabia, to support her writing ambitions, without realizing that his is the life truly made for fiction. And in the title story, a journalist and a nurse face an unspeakable trauma amidst the political turmoil of the Philippines in the 1970s and ’80s.
In the Country speaks to the heart of everyone who has ever searched for a place to call home. From teachers to housemaids, from mothers to sons, Alvar’s powerful debut collection explores the universal experiences of loss, displacement, and the longing to connect across borders both real and imagined. Deeply compassionate and richly felt, In the Country marks the emergence of a formidable new writer.
4. Lalani of The Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly
There are stories of extraordinary children who are chosen from birth to complete great quests and conquer evil villains.
This is no such story.
Sometimes, you are an ordinary child.
Sometimes, you have to choose yourself.
This is the story of Lalani Sarita, a twelve-year-old girl who lives on the island of Sanlagita in the shadow of a vengeful mountain. When she makes a fateful wish that endangers her already-vulnerable village, she sets out across the distant sea in search of life’s good fortunes. Grown men have died making the same journey. What hope does an ordinary girl have?
Inspired by Filipino folklore, Lalani of the Distant Sea introduces readers to a landscape of magical creatures, such as Bai-Vinca, the enormous birdwoman; Ditasa Ulod, part woman, part eel; the mindoren, a race of creatures modeled after the water buffalo; and the whenbo — trees that eat the souls of the dead.
5. Confessions Kanae Minato
HER PUPILS KILLED HER DAUGHTER.
NOW, SHE WILL HAVE HER REVENGE.
After calling off her engagement in wake of a tragic revelation, Yuko Moriguchi had nothing to live for except her only child, four-year-old Manami. Now, following an accident on the grounds of the middle school where she teaches, Yuko has given up and tendered her resignation.
But first she has one last lecture to deliver. She tells a story that upends everything her students ever thought they knew about two of their peers, and sets in motion a maniacal plot for revenge.
Narrated in alternating voices, with twists you’ll never see coming, Confessions explores the limits of punishment, despair, and tragic love, culminating in a harrowing confrontation between teacher and student that will place the occupants of an entire school in danger. You’ll never look at a classroom the same way again.
6. The Poppy War by RF Kuang
When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.
7. Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
How far will you go to protect your family? Will you keep their secrets? Ignore their lies?
In a small town in Virginia, a group of people know each other because they’re part of a special treatment center, a hyperbaric chamber that may cure a range of conditions from infertility to autism. But then the chamber explodes, two people die, and it’s clear the explosion wasn’t an accident.
A showdown unfolds as the story moves across characters who are all maybe keeping secrets, hiding betrayals. Was it the careless mother of a patient? Was it the owners, hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college? Could it have been a protester, trying to prove the treatment isn’t safe?
8. The Magical Language of Others by EJ Koh
The Magical Language of Others is a powerful and aching love story in letters, from mother to daughter. After living in America for over a decade, Eun Ji Koh’s parents return to South Korea for work, leaving fifteen-year-old Eun Ji and her brother behind in California. Overnight, Eun Ji finds herself abandoned and adrift in a world made strange by her mother’s absence. Her mother writes letters, in Korean, over the years seeking forgiveness and love—letters Eun Ji cannot fully understand until she finds them years later hidden in a box.
As Eun Ji translates the letters, she looks to history—her grandmother Jun’s years as a lovesick wife in Daejeon, the horrors her grandmother Kumiko witnessed during the Jeju Island Massacre—and to poetry, as well as her own lived experience to answer questions inside all of us. Where do the stories of our mothers and grandmothers end and ours begin? How do we find words—in Korean, Japanese, English, or any language—to articulate the profound ways that distance can shape love? Eun Ji Koh fearlessly grapples with forgiveness, reconciliation, legacy, and intergenerational trauma, arriving at insights that are essential reading for anyone who has ever had to balance love, longing, heartbreak, and joy.
The Magical Language of Others weaves a profound tale of hard-won selfhood and our deep bonds to family, place, and language, introducing—in Eun Ji Koh—a singular, incandescent voice.
9. This Time Will be Different by Misa Sugiura
Katsuyamas never quit—but seventeen-year-old CJ doesn’t even know where to start. She’s never lived up to her mom’s type A ambition, and she’s perfectly happy just helping her aunt, Hannah, at their family’s flower shop.
She doesn’t buy into Hannah’s romantic ideas about flowers and their hidden meanings, but when it comes to arranging the perfect bouquet, CJ discovers a knack she never knew she had. A skill she might even be proud of.
Then her mom decides to sell the shop—to the family who swindled CJ’s grandparents when thousands of Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during WWII. Soon a rift threatens to splinter CJ’s family, friends, and their entire Northern California community; and for the first time, CJ has found something she wants to fight for.
That’s my ambitious TBR, who knows I could add more. Crossing my fingers I could read most of them if not all! I quite started reading Asian authors as I am currently reading/listening on audio book Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang.
Do share your tbrs should you decide to join this amazing asian readathons! Let’s spread all the love and celebrate Asian authors and their amazing works! I am thinking of doing this as a yearly thing, we’ll see!
A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.
Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.
They’re polar opposites.
In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.
Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.
Long time no review! I haven’t been giving full reviews since the year started, but this book deserves a full one! Beach Read is now included in my favorite books list. Best believe this will be one of the books that will come up on one of our conversations. Beach Read is so much more than what its gorgeous cover lets on. It is just everything I wanted in a book: 1) book about writers ; ) playful and funny banters; 3) characters that are relatable and realistic (not the God-like, drop-dead gorgeous with ripped abs characters often described in romance books); 4) great family dynamic; 5) depth and character development and 6) lastly amazing plot line.
This book isn’t just your ordinary summer read. While it has the quality of a feel good book (something we desperately need during this uncertain time) it also gives off maturity and depth, focusing on dealing with grief and coming to terms with it while also discovering one’s self in the process. Beach Read offers its readers an escape from their own heads while imparting a lesson or two. I love that in a book, the way that it is not just a book but a depiction, an understanding, a realization. It deals with different kinds of grief but contain universal pain. I love how a book speaks in volumes.
January Andrews and Augustus Everett (gossssh I love their names!!!) are characters I have been longing to read for quite sometime. Who would pass up on a story about a romance writer and a literary fiction author? The premise alone holds so much promise and it definitely held up its part of the bargain, definitely exceeded my expectations.. January and Augustus have solid characteristics with amazing character development. Their characters represent two kinds of different people, one with a happier outlook and the other with seriousness, bleakness and some sense of intensity – looking at the world not with pessimism but with realistic eyes. I loved how their characters compliment each other and how their deal came about, how they each learn the value of the other’s work.
I loved how this book highlighted the notions on women’s fiction and how it should be valued just as much as any kind of literature. Oh gosh I love their rom-com trips, my fave was the drive-in, I am such a sucker for that! The author was able to highlight so much about the process of writing (makes me want to write my own book haha). Augustus and January’s banters and palpable sexual tension gave this book so much color. I laughed on more than one occasion. I love how easy their conversations are and how it doesn’t feel forced. Beach Read is the kind of book that really was able to sell the relationship of the characters, they are easily lovable and you just can’t help but root for them. The slow burn romance was played out well. While there are times that I would like Augustus and January’s relationship to move on to the next level and a few times got frustrated by their “almosts”, like I just want them to make out already and be a happy happy couple haha. But when everything unfolded and ran its course, it was just perfect and definitely worth the wait. The romance was just made right, and that’s what I love most about it.
I can confidently say that Beach Read will be loved by many. It’s fun, sweet, tug at your heartstrings, with relatable characters and have an awesome setting. Honestly, what’s not to love?
Falling’s the part that takes your breath away. It’s the part when you can’t believe the person standing in front of you both exists and happened to wander into your path. It’s supposed to make you feel lucky to be alive, exactly when and where you are.