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Nothing Casual About My Dalliance With My Dark Vanessa

Goodreads screenshot My Dark Vanessa Kate Elizabeth Russell

I just finished the audiobook My Dark Vanessa written by Kate Elizabeth Russell and read by Grace Gummer. It was SO good. Not in a—*squeal* omg I love that book!—kind of good, but in a—lets her weight fully drop into her seat while slowly exhaling wow—kind of good.

Vanessa Wye is a fifteen year old girl whose teacher, Jacob Strane, coaxes her into a sexual relationship. “Dark” is apt, not just for describing Vanessa, but to characterize the whole story. It’s a heavy read that fleshes out the complexities of the characters’ situation. 

Especially impressive is Russell’s writing of Vanessa's voice. Given that Russell began writing this book when she was fifteen, she gets the tone and topics of Vanessa’s thoughts just right, so that I can easily remember being a fifteen year old girl myself. But being in her fifteen-year-old brain proves insidious. Midway through I suddenly became aware of a slight sickening feeling that blindsided me. For Vanessa the affair seems like a love story, to be specially chosen by this older brilliant man who has so much more to offer than boys her own age do. But it is in fact rape. As the reader, I see it so clearly, but the way Vanessa describes it is just heartbreaking. She’s oblivious to the abuse she receives even while it is happening. 

Alternating between Vanessa’s high school days of the early aughts and the present day, Russell weaves in the #metoo movement and pop culture references. She contrasts Vanessa’s girl-self with her adult perspective. Even when it was tough to read, I felt compelled to keep going because I cared about Vanessa and I wanted to know what happened to her. I wanted to know she was okay.

I’m glad I read this in audio format. Gummer does a stellar job bringing Vanessa to life in my mind. I thought her voice was just right for all of the characters. This is one book I would recommend the audio version in particular because of how much Gummer’s interpretation enriched the experience. 

For such a dark book, I have one rather light word for our weekly Wordy Wednesday segment. Below is the new-to-me word with the sentence in which I found it, followed by the Oxford definition and a sentence of my own using the word. 


“I’m not envious of whatever dalliances you might have had before me” (5:11). 

Noun: a casual or romantic relationship

COVID has put an end to carefree dalliances now that close social interactions of any kind can pose such profound health risks.

Have you read any heavy books you’d like to get off your chest? Share in the comments!



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