My Dark Vanessa | Kate Elizabeth Russell

One sentence:

Nestled neatly in the category of “fucked up things that are my favorite things to read about,” this book was really good and also really infuriating.

Three thoughts:

  • I’m not the type of reader who often finds myself (even internally) yelling at the characters in books, but I SURE DID THIS TIME.
  • This is a terrible suggestion in reality, but part of me feels like young people should read books like this, to see exactly how gaslighting and manipulation happens.
  • I’m now terrified to have daughters, so there’s that. What do you do when the people who are charged with protecting your children are the ones endangering them?


  • Characters: 5/5. So, definitely full points here. These are some genuinely flawed characters and they are so, so real. Strane is the best at being the absolute worst. He’s just awful. Legitimately not a good guy and even when he killed himself, it gave you no sense of relief, which is good. Because it shouldn’t. Vanessa is infuriatingly naive but of course, doesn’t see it. Ultimately, she’s a child, she needs guidance, and she’s a teenager so she’s not accepting it from anyone. I definitely did feel some relief later, when she began to heal.
  • Plot: 5/5. I mean, it’s terrifying. You send your kids to a boarding school, believing that they’re safer there than anywhere else, but you’re unwittingly sending them into danger.
  • Setting: 4/5. The whole idea of boarding school is often painted in this very romantic way, and it’s intended to be very mysterious to those who aren’t a part of that world. I do wish we’d seen more of what Vanessa’s daily experiences living in a boarding school were like. I know that wasn’t really the point of the book but personally, I’d like that.
  • Style/Voice: 5/5. I really liked the back and forth from present day to Vanessa’s days in boarding school. The author is also incredibly good at describing the actions and words of a pedophile, so there’s that.
  • Theme: 4/5. The themes were heavy here; forgiveness, not only of others but of yourself. Trust and relationships, and how sometimes we place the must vulnerable parts of ourselves in the wrong hands. I loved knowing that Vanessa’s mom loved her unconditionally, even knowing what she went through and even though Vanessa worried that it would change how her mom sees her.

Overall Rating: 4.6/5.0

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