My Dark Vanessa

Rating this book sucks. I almost question whether doing so is a mistake on my part. When it comes to sensitive topics, how necessary or efficient are ratings? I would hate for a lower rating to deter anyone away from picking this up, or that it would in anyway minimize the subject matter explored. 

Now, I consider myself a person who is able to bear a lot when it comes to dark subject matters. Although, I wish I could say this was as “unputdownable” as so many other reviewers have said, the truth is it wasn’t. I needed breaks for my own mental health. From the very start I hit a groove and ate the story up as fast I could, but then the first rape scene came around and I couldn’t stomach it. It was raw and so vividly clear in my head that I felt nauseated. I put it down and forced myself to pick it back up the next day, but then found I could only consume it sections at a time otherwise it felt like too heavy of a burden for my mind to carry. 

I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like to birth a story of this nature, much less labor it for eighteen or so years. It seems like a potentially harmful mindset to be stuck in for so long, so for that alone I give the deepest of bows to the author. 

Honestly, this book accomplished exactly what it set out to do, beautifully I may even add. It exposed everything from how sexual assault can occur, the details in grooming, to what it means to be a victim and live with those repercussions, bearing the guilt of it all and more. It illustrates how even when a victim “wants” (for lack of a better word) their predator, especially when they’re underage, there is no way for them to ever be complicit in the crime that’s done to them. It’s simply not possible and Russel does a chilling job in exemplifying the slippery line of consent. 

However, the issue? The book did all of this by the halfway point. 

In other words, the first half alone is a five-star novel. It’s poignant and most importantly succinct; it gets the message across efficiently. But then the story stretches out further, and the truth of the matter is we didn’t need more. An extended story, with plot lines that don’t contribute to the core of this novel, only aids in diluting the message of the book and hindering its power. As a result, I struggle to review a book who’s aim was true if it had just been chopped in half. 

I don’t want this to come out wrong, so be weary if this triggers you, but the latter half of this book feels romanticized. I am not saying that is the intention. I am only stating my experience. One of the primary reasons I feel this way is because there were far too many rape scenes. The thing is, there are a hundred million vile and atrocious ways in which you can be raped. I don’t doubt that, and we could sit down and try to map all of those out if we wanted to, but should we? No. I don’t think you need to exploit numerous scenarios of lack of content to get a point across. 

Furthermore, the author’s insistence on telling and showing us how “special” Vanessa was to Strane left a sour taste in my mouth. If the rest of the victims’ experiences resembled Vanessa’s more, rather than touching of the knee, the story would’ve felt powerful in how surreal it turned out be. That this monster had somehow convinced so many young girls they were the exception. Instead, the book repeatedly shows how truly unique Vanessa is to Strane amongst his pool of victims, which left this warped undertone of the story trying to become a love story.

Regardless of anything negative I might have to say, I am glad this story exists. We’ve come a long way in this era of #MeToo when it comes to rape culture and hearing victims’ stories. Furthermore, this book definitely takes it a step further by showing all the meticulous details of how these tragedies even come about. It might be a difficult novel to endure, but I do feel a lot of us could benefit from reading it or other stories alike.

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