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Publisher's Summary

Entertainment Weekly's Breakout Author to Watch in 2020

"Brilliant and stunning...an absolute must read." (Gillian Flynn)

"A well-constructed package of dynamite." (Stephen King)

A most anticipated book by The New York TimesUSA TodayEntertainment WeeklyMarie ClaireElle Harper's BazaarBustle NewsweekNew York PostEsquire Real SimpleThe Sunday TimesThe Guardian

One of the most buzzed-about debuts in years

An international sensation sold in 24 territories and counting

Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming listen that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, 15-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful 42-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.

Includes a bonus conversation with Kate Elizabeth Russell, Grace Gummer, and Jessica Williams (editor of My Dark Vanessa).

©2020 Kate Elizabeth Russell (P)2020 HarperCollins Publishers

What listeners say about My Dark Vanessa

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Horrifying and Brave

My Dark Vanessa recounts the story of Vanessa, a lonely 15-year -old girl who is groomed to engage in a sexual relationship with her English teacher. The story is told in two narratives which alternate between Vanessa’s adolescence and adulthood. The interchange of these accounts allows the reader to understand the calculated manipulation of sexual grooming while exploring the long-term psychological consequences of abuse. In both narratives, the main character contemplates society’s own ephebophilia (“sexual interest in mid-to-late adolescents”) which normalizes the sexual objectification of teens in contemporary pop culture. My Dark Vanessa was, at times, a very difficult book to listen to. There were times when my skin was crawling, my stomach was nauseated, and my mouth was locked in a grimace. During some chapters I had to stop listening because I was so angry, or upset, or revolted. My Dark Vanessa sometimes felt horrific, but the novel is so brave and well constructed that it is impossible to award My Dark Vanessa anything less than five stars. Narrator Grace Gummer (whom I later discovered is Meryl Streep’s daughter) gives an excellent performance, though I think the act of listening held me an unwilling captive to sections that I might otherwise have skimmed or skipped.

8 people found this helpful

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Compelling!

Compelling. Horrific. Important. Captivating. Difficult. UnPutDownable. This one will haunt you for a long time. Brilliant writing and exquisite narration.

5 people found this helpful

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Top 5 best ever -haunting. Order it!!!!

One of the most moving, haunting books I’ve ever read. Audiobook version was incredibly, going to read book also. Just incredible.

4 people found this helpful

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Challenging listen, but highly recommended

Dark Vanessa is an uncomfortable, challenging listen that takes the listener into the shoes of a woman who was abused as a child and the consequences of the abuse. Grace did an incredible job narrating the character's voices.

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual abuse, pedophilia, and coercion.

3 people found this helpful

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Haunting

This book was beautifully written, confusing, horrific to read at times. It's haunting me. It is so complex, so conflicting. Just brilliant. I'm going to buy it in print so I can lend it to people in order to discuss and unpack. So thought provoking.

Would recommend 100% though may be too hard for some.

1 person found this helpful

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Best book I have ever listened to

This book was amazing. I visualized and felt every word. The narrator was perfect for the story. Even if you haven’t experienced what Vanessa went through you will be able to relate to her story. Read/listen to it, you will not be disappointed!

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deeply disturbing but incredible

I am at a loss for words with this book. I cannot express enough how uncomfortable it was to listen to scenes of a 15 year old being groomed and gaslit and sexually abused by her English teacher. But the message the author drives home is so powerful. The way the author dug so deeply into the psyche of both the survivor and her abuser made my jaw drop. Her writing is beautiful and devastating and brilliant. the narrator gave one of the best audio book performances I have ever heard. At times, she moved me to tears.

This story was so disturbing and compelling and heartbreaking. The ending made me mad because it wasn't a super hero movie ending, it was real. I wanted justice for the victim too. I listened to the entire thing in 24 hours because it consumed me and I could not put it down. I hope the author continues to tell women's stories this way. This book is unlike anything I have ever read. I am deeply struck by this experience.

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Not bad but expected more

From the many bestseller lists this book appears on and positive reviews I did expect a bit more. At some points it felt slow and the characters journey is less about how far shes come and more about aging and the time gaps between scene descriptions. Would not recommend this to my peers but I also wouldn’t discourage someone set on reading it.

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Wow

Wow. So strong. Incredible writing and perfect narration. I think similar things (not necessarily from teachers) have happened to many of us. But the curtain of innocence kept us blind to what really happened. Thank you for writing this.

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  • B
  • 2021-05-09

important messages

This book was uncomfortable to listen at several times, but I think that's what makes it so critically important to listen or read. Very balanced in the validation and" this isn't right" dilemma Vanessa faces. You think the story is over after part1, but really it has just begun. Thank you Kate for pushing this love story of abuse all the way through. such an important reflection on judgment, love, mental health, manipulation, abuse of adolescents by adults, and acknowledgment that adult relationships fall into similar traps too.

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  • Judy George
  • 2020-03-13

I apologize

I returned this book because it was painful and expressed deep concerns about abuse. I bought it back (I owe Audible a credit) because the writing, directing and performance was inspiring, thought provoking, and made me feel things I had long ago pushed down in my psyche! God Bless the team

59 people found this helpful

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  • Ellen
  • 2020-03-30

STUNNING

“I need it to be a love story. I need it to be that.”

WOW!! I don't think I have the words to describe how I feel about this book. With stunning writing and powerful prose, the author has written one of THE most important books of the year. I was completely entranced by the audiobook narrated by Grace Gummer, whose youthful-sounding voice perfectly captured the spirit of Vaness Wye.

Vanessa first meets her teacher Jacob Strane when she is a lonely 15-year-old attending boarding school in Maine. The reader sees that he is grooming her but to Vanessa, and in his own words, Strane is falling in love with her. With him, she feels smart, talented, special. Vanessa cannot admit to herself or to anyone later in her life that what happened what actually abuse.

“This, I think, is the cost of telling, even in the guise of fiction. Once you do, it’s the only thing about you anyone will ever care about. It defines you whether you want it to or not.”

Vanessa is not completely truthful with her family about Strane even though there are many red flags about their deepening relationship. There were many times that an adult could have stepped in but no one did. Instead Vanessa is the one whose life is altered by Strane's actions - even though she can never use harsh words for his actions, and describes their time together as a love story.

Vanessa never paints herself as a victim because that would mean her relationship with Strane was illicit. But when years later another young student makes allegations against Strane, she is forced to confront her own past and Strane's actions.

"I'm a survivor, too."

That word, with its cloying empathy; that patronizing, flattening word that makes my whole body cringe no matter the context-it pushes too far."

I could not stop listening to this stunning and powerful story. The writing is exquisite! Alternating between 2000 and 2017, we can clearly see how Strane's actions scarred her as an adult, even if Vanessa herself cannot quite recognize it.

This story is so compelling and complex that I kept stopping the audiobook to mark quotes from the book. I was COMPLETELY engrossed in this beautiful story and loved the bonus interview with the author and narrator at the end of the audiobook. Whether you read this or listen to the audiobook, make this one of your must-reads this year. Bravo to the author for this magnificent story!

55 people found this helpful

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  • Timothy McCarthy
  • 2020-03-16

Outstanding.

Russell should, and will, be celebrated as the first author with the courage to treat this subject with the complexity it deserves. Beautifully and thoughtfully done.

34 people found this helpful

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  • Cherilyn Parsons
  • 2020-03-28

Complex and compelling - and fabulously read aloud

Wow, what a novel – beautifully written (essential for writing about horror), paced, and developed. I can hardly stop listening once I started. I wish that Oprah hadn’t dropped this from her book club because the subject matter of this book is controversial. The book doesn’t come down on the side of abusers. Rather, it illuminates the panoply of dynamics, including the vulnerability of victims. I hope this book sparks wide conversation.

The audiobook was excellent. Sometimes I speed up the pace of audiobooks (to 1.25) but the pace of this performance was perfect, including the many times it slowed down to match what was happening in the story. The narrator’s voice varied for the different characters and also for Vanessa at different ages. I would highly recommend the audiobook. Just warning, you won’t be able to stop listening once you start.

I know several people who are afraid to read this book because it’s dark, as advertised in the title. But it really is important to read. And, I must say, from a literary perspective, it’s a true pleasure.

30 people found this helpful

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  • Wendi
  • 2020-04-01

I Don't Really Know What To Say, But I Will Try..

After reading so many wonderful reviews about My Dark Vanessa, I wanted to try it for myself. I found the topic fascinating and I couldn't wait to delve in. Unfortunately, I didn't love it. In fact, I am not sure that I liked it.

Don't get me wrong. The critics are correct when they hail the Russell's prose at 'beautiful and moving.' This first novel is a tremendous accomplishment and I tip my hat to Ms. Russell.

The issue isn't the prose, or the seriousness and the way that almost every single straight woman in the world can relate to some part, if not all, of the story. The story focuses on a teen girl in a boarding school who falls in love with her teacher and has a long time affair with him, even after she is abused in every possible way, repetitively.

The problem, for me,, is that I didn't like the main character. I wanted to feel empathy for her as I watched her struggle. My past pain and horrible experiences flew to the surface and my heart started to break all over again, but instead of feeling sorry for her- I felt angry with her. She seemed so whiny, so irritating, and just downright dumb after awhile. I wanted her to get her stuff together and stand up for herself. But instead, it got to be a whine fest and I grew too irritated with the character and then I felt myself swimming in resentment reservoir- resenting the guy who was treating her horribly, resenting every guy who ever gaslit me, and then resenting her for continuing to whine about it.

This is an important novel, and one that should be read and appreciated, and celebrated as truth. But, I just couldn't connect with the main character, and I hope that others will.

-Wendi

26 people found this helpful

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  • Rene G.
  • 2020-04-13

Dark is a perfect word for this....

I read the reviews before I purchased this and knew it was going to be dark.
It was at times sickening. If you want to read about 15 year olds having sex with old men teachers then do listen
I am sorry I got this, and even more sorry I listened to the end

24 people found this helpful

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  • angela
  • 2020-03-18

Amazing

A very different perspective. We have heard so many personal stories, especially in the past couple of years, but this one takes you through such an intimate journey of the main characters psyche throughout her life. We are given a new understanding of how someone can process and manipulate their reality in ways that to most seem a completely different circumstance. I believe that Vanessa’s rationality is relatable to more girls and women than we would think.

20 people found this helpful

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  • Sudha
  • 2020-04-05

Had to make myself stop

I really tried to look past the violence in this book. I got through 10 chapters and mildly wanted to throw up. It was too upsetting and maybe that’s a mark of how realistically the book was written. There are certainly horrors out there that I can’t relate to and hope I never will have to. But that is the point. I don’t have to. Especially not during the time I set aside for entertainment.

I was left depressed every time I made some headway in this book. Also, the narrator has this scratchy voice for the flashbacks (which is a huge chunk of the book) that is maybe meant to represent youth? Either way it is annoying and doesn’t help my already waning desire to listen further.

18 people found this helpful

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  • Matthew Robertson
  • 2020-03-12

A little intense

It is very hard to listen to 15 hours of child rape. It is not a bad book by any means and the writing is actually good, it’s just not for me. Not my cup of tea.

16 people found this helpful

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  • bailey
  • 2020-03-20

Wow.

That was amazing. I would give in 15 stars if I could. Eloquently written, consuming tale that will leave you eager to discuss with fellow readers.

13 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2020-04-01

The audiobook you need

Modern times lolita. A very disturbing yet very good book. Grace's voice is perfect for Vanessa. Highly recommend.