William Morrow | March 2020 | 384 pgs
First off, let me say My Dark Vanessa was NOT an easy read. Its dark and disturbing themes would unsettle any reader, yet it also features a few important and thought-provoking subjects which I think anyone shouldn't ignore.
In a nutshell, this story is about the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a 15-year-old precocious, innocent girl and a 42-year-old magnetic yet manipulative teacher. Jacob Strane makes use of Vanessa's innocence and vulnerabilities and disguise his predatory and manipulative advances towards her as a twisted form of "forbidden love". Vanessa, being a pure in heart and a precocious girl, falls into his trap and eventually come out as a changed and an emotionally damaged woman who still sees their relationship as something innocuous even she's now thirty-two and working as a concierge clerk at a hotel. Vanessa's present life is in no way better than the past despite she hasn't been in contact with Strane for a while and she's seeing a therapist for grief after the loss of her father. It's until the news of Taylor Birch going public with the allegations of abuse over Strane that Vanessa finds herself back into Strane's life; for the latter wants her reassurance that she'll remain on his side, in which Vanessa has assured him that she has no intention of putting him in an unfavourable situation. Thereafter begins the flashbacks of Vanessa's school life and her interactions with Jacob Strane, who was her English teacher then; alongside alternating with the present 2017 in which the reader learn about Vanessa's struggles in life and that no relationship seems like "normal" after Strane. What most heartbreaking is, young Vanessa allows herself to see that their relationship is more of a forbidden romantic affair than an abusive one and these thoughts follow her till her adulthood though occasionally she still think about him and question what he'd done to her.
My Dark Vanessa is a well-written piece of work despite the dark and disturbing theme. The author has done a great job in capturing the atmosphere of Browick School and its school system, as well as the characters' thoughts and emotions (especially Vanessa's fragile state of mind, both as a teenager and an adult). While this storyline comprises issues such as sexual abuse, power and manipulation, it also depicts the pressure the abused victims have to face as they brave in front of the public for justice and support though there are also some who are quick to judge and think otherwise. Although this is a work of fiction, sadly what happened in this story DO happen in reality and there are victims who are like Vanessa, who feel it's their fault instead of the men who manipulate and abuse them. This book isn't a fun read (I'd to set the book aside to take some breaks before continuing my reading) but it's also a powerful and a thought-provoking book which portrays the issues of today's society.
Last but not least, I want to thank Lark for "walking" through this dark reading journey with me. This book is our most difficult read among our buddy reads to date but we don't regret reading it. We decided to skip the questions this time around but we'll still continue with this feature for our next buddy reads. And finally, do visit Lark's blog for her thoughts about this book!
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