A Review-Based Student Publication of Townsend Harris High School

The Classic Critic

A Review-Based Student Publication of Townsend Harris High School

The Classic Critic

A Review-Based Student Publication of Townsend Harris High School

The Classic Critic

My Dark Vanessa: The Power of Manipulation


This novel contains many trigger warnings such as sexual assault, pedophilia, emotional abuse, and suicide. 

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell is a novel that follows Vanessa Wye, a girl whose innocence was stripped away by a man who was supposed to be her mentor. Alternating between 2007 and 2017, switching between the once 15 year old and now 32 year old Vanessa as she grapples with the trauma from her teenage years. 

Vanessa, a sophomore at Browick, a private boarding school, never quite fit in with the rest of her peers. Her vulnerability and intelligence captured the attention of her 42 year old English teacher, Jacob Strane. Strane begins to groom and seduce Vanessa as they develop a closer relationship over time. As Vanessa is increasingly manipulated by Strane, she disconnects herself from her family and social relationships. Strane promised Vanessa that she was in charge of the intimacy of their relationship.

In reality, she’s not. Although relatively unbeknownst to Vanessa, Strane is completely controlling her, often pressuring her to do acts she does not want.

Vanessa’s relationship with her parents plays a crucial part in how her relationship with Strane lasted for so long. Her parents often accidentally neglected her, leading to a lot of the characterization we see within Vanessa. They knew there was something suspicious going on with her Strane, yet they neglected to address it properly. Despite the fact that multiple people knew or suspected something was amiss about Strane and Vanessa’s close “friendship,” everyone failed to stop it in the end. 

Now 32 years old, Vanessa often questions the events of her past,wondering whether or not everything was truly her fault. It was heartbreaking reading how Vanessa blamed herself instead of realizing she was just a victim of his manipulation. 

The most noteworthy aspect of Russel’s novel is the way she developed Vanessa as a character. Through the use of internal thoughts, readers learn Vanessa’s darkest wishes. Her longing to feel special paved the way for Strane to lure her in. Vanessa is unlike any protagonist I have read about. Unlike other stories of abuse I have read about, Vanessa does not consider herself a victim. She could not deal with owning that title. I was fascinated by the way Vanessa handled her trauma. She lied to herself so much it became the truth. Over the years her mind created a reality that she could bare. 

The present day chapters of the novel include sessions Vanessa has with her therapist, where she tries to unpack how she felt during the years of her relationship. A revealing quote from the novel comes from one of these therapy sessions, where Vanessa admits why she has romanticized the ruinous relationship she had:

“‘I can’t lose the thing I’ve held on to for so long. You know?[..] I just really need it to be a love story. You know? I really, really need it to be that.’”

My Dark Vanessa is one of the most captivating and thought provoking novels I have read, and I profusely recommend it to those that do not mind the triggers. It was a tough read, but certainly worth it.  Every part of the story was thought out precisely with no detail left behind. This gripping story is one that will never leave your mind. 

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