I don't know where to begin; I have so many emotions inside me that I find it hard to express myself using words.
It was sitting on my reading list for months until I finally gave it a read. This book was an experience I want everyone to have a read and go through. This book is categorized in the adult section on good reads, which I believe it should be as it is very adult subject matter, it is also very graphic and hard content to read. At the same time, I think this book should and can be read by young adults too.
Before I begin with the discussion, a trigger warning:
It is a very sensitive topic. We are talking about the relationship of someone underage with an older person, so it is talking about abuse if this is a particularly triggering type of subject for you please close this tab away just for your well being which is more important so just please go enjoy your day.
My dark Venessa follows two timelines. From the perspective of a girl who's 15 years old, olgoes off to boarding school and then falls into this romance with her English professor name Strain. On the other hand, we also have the present perspective where after 10 years later where allegations are coming out about him. Our protagonist Vanessa deals with a lot of internal turmoil about believing that what happened to her genuinely was romantic. It was her first romance; it was her first everything. She wants to defend him instead of trying to hear the victims out and then slowly realizing that maybe what happened to her wasn't as romantic as she thought perhaps it was something closer to abuse.
This is an incredibly powerful novel. The subject matter itself is so important. So it's heavy, it's a lot. Still, the way it was written, I think, is something that needs to be spoken of because this is a story that the right author tackled, so I think it was written with this perfect balance because at the beginning of the story from the get-go we the reader get to see the grooming that's happening and the subtle manipulations. The writing was so well done it was easy for me to allow myself to an extent to get swept up in what Vanessa was being swept up, in a while still maintaining the reality of seeing the manipulation and the grooming behind the scenes and then along with Vanessa being smacked with the stark reality of her present time perspective.
The thing is, this story requires a balance in the way that it's written, and this author did it perfectly. It would have been easy for an author to have spoon-fed morality to us throughout this novel. That 'this is bad kids this is called "Pedophilia," and that's what grooming is stay away from it', it would have been very easy to have our hands held throughout the book it also would have been really easy to maintain a distanced enough narrative that the reader could have fallen into the romance with Vanessa and not seeing the abuse of it.
Now the pros and cons of the book, so why should someone read this book?
The biggest reason for me is because it talks about how our society sexualizes girls at a very young age. Female sexuality is becoming less and less taboo by the day. Still, I feel like it is still so taboo that women sometimes get shunned talking about it, maybe not in the day-to-day media, but we know between their parents between families it's still weird to talk about.
This book touched on how men and sometimes women pry on young girls and young boys and collate them. Her English professor, Strain, the way he manipulates her was so accurate and so scary that some of the ways he manipulates her throughout the entire book reminded me of the ways I have been manipulated in the past by other people. I think it's very eye-opening, which may help some readers realize when they're being manipulated in their daily life. The whole abuse and manipulation in this book, depending on what age you are in, will be looking at the whole story from that perspective. To that, I would like to suggest the readers not judge the characters or the entire story with their own biased eyes. What I mean is, for example, this whole story began when Vanessa was a teenager, me being an adult. When I look at the story, it was sometimes challenging because I was looking through all this manipulation. At the same time, we have to understand Vanessa was underage, of course; she doesn't know a whole lot better. One thing I remember once my counselor told me is why sometimes it is hard for victims of past trauma to get over their abuse is we tend to forget when the trauma took place, we were children, and now we judge that child with all these filters that we put on as we become adults.
I could easily see myself in Vanessa's shoes at specific points of the novel, and it was creepy and traumatizing to read at times since Strain has multiple victims that he has abused. You see how trauma and how the same event can cause specific reactions and effects between different people. I like that it was discussed because not everyone is going to want to speak up about this immediately. Some people will want to hide and handle their trauma very differently. And I'm glad it showed that the author piles all this conversation on you. Still, she never says, "Hey, this is wrong, this is wrong," over your head, she gives you the points in detail, and you can have a conversation within yourself and to have with other readers. This triggers your inner turmoil to roll.
Now, why might this book not be for you?
The biggest con I think people are going to have with this book is the main character herself. What Venessa has gone through is very traumatic, and she believes what she had with Strain was a romance. Throughout the book, it may seem like she protects him. You see her go against him and then go with him this constant back and forth. At one point, she becomes almost an unlikable character because she becomes part of the problem, and I think people do not like unlikeable characters. I saw many complaints about how Venessa wasn't a likable character, and sometimes they wish she snapped out of it. The second most significant point, I don't think people truly understand how hard this is to read. I don't think anyone can read this and say, 'oh, I felt nothing during the scenes like I was completely fine' I read it through just fine. But in reality, when I was listening to this on audiobook, which kind of makes it worse, I couldn't skim through those parts; I had to sit and listen to it. When listening to those scenes, the reaction that came out of me is I was in a fetal position. You will feel disgusted by how these scenes are done, and it just's so sad and heartbreaking because this is not only fictional; it happens to real people every day.
"I wonder how much victimhood they'd be willing to grant a girl like me."
This is why it's stirred up so many emotions in me. Sometimes I was feeling angry I was very judgmental, which is a realization you would have if you are brutally honest with yourself. If you judge real harshly, that is the point; you should remind yourself as it's a story. You should be just a listener and see till the end because today, victimizing women still happens, and society doesn't show them much mercy. All I could think is, "I wonder how much victimhood they'd be willing to grant a girl like me." Because of this societal perception of how a girl should be or shouldn't be, the girl usually feels pressured within herself, keeping her feeling isolated, which tells her it's her fault and to not to speak out loud, which is why some of the pedophiles can do so much for so long.
In the end, all I can say is this:
"Maybe this is why we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to books: to find words for what we already know."—— Alberto Manguel