My Dark Vanessa

Morrow. Mar. 2020. 384p. ISBN 9780062941503. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062941527. f.
DEBUT At age 15, Vanessa had a relationship with her 42-year-old English teacher, Jacob Strane, who claims to love her for her emotional intelligence and creative writing abilities. At least that’s what she tells us nearly two decades later, when another student has called out Strane for their sexual activity and starts a social media firestorm. It also starts Vanessa thinking. She had always believed that she and Strane shared true love and defends him now against this student’s so-called lies, but what really happened? Vanessa must decide whether she was a victim or willing participant, which of course raises the question of how willing you can be at age 15 in an unequal power relationship. As Vanessa slowly unpacks what happened, we see her youthful and ongoing denial, the impact of events on her still unsure self, how sedulous Strane was in drawing her in, how unabashed he remains, how much she needed and still needs to believe they had something special, and how she still takes Strane as a measure.
VERDICT A deeply relevant debut that the author has been writing since age 16, drawing on her own experiences, and the reading enlightens even as it chills. [See Prepub Alert, 7/1/19.]

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