Andrea reviews MY DARK VANESSA by Kate Elizabeth Russell, Harper Collins, 2020, 372 pages.

It has been 17 years since 15 year-old Vanessa Wye was in Jacob Strane’s high school honors literature class. It’s also been 17 years since Strane, as Vanessa calls him because “he was never a Jacob to me,” put his hand on her thigh. Subtly but creepily, 42 year-old Strane began his relationship with too-young Vanessa. She never believed what happened was wrong or even illegal. She was kicked out of the Maine boarding school and Strane was suspended but Vanessa continued to defend him. Even over a decade later, Vanessa refuses to see their sexual relationship as heinous. Friends, family, and her therapist all urge her to realize what Strane pursued was just flat out wrong! His allusions to Lolita and other literature describing young lovers just made Vanessa think their clandestine romance was predestined.

Now in the #METOO movement, all the dogs are out. Social media influencers are trying to get Vanessa to share her story against Strane. There is a legal battle raging and past victims are being asked to testify against the English teacher. Vanessa is defensive and loyal to Strane even though she could be the main witness to get Strane convicted. Will she testify?

This was a difficult book to wrap my head around. Most people would argue a relationship between a 42 year-old man and a 15 year-old girl is arborous and a crime. What if the child falls in love and believes it is consensual, then what? This is not a story of black and white. Readers need to accept there is a lot of grays in this controversial first novel by Kate Elizabeth Russell.