Rating: 3.5 stars.
This is such a hard book to rate. I'm still unsure whether 3.5 is really a fair rating, but it seems to capture my thoughts best.
First, I really loved the writing style. Vanessa was an incredibly well-written protagonist, emphasizing with her was so easy and she felt so real. All her emotions were described vividly and I really felt for her. What I didn't love was the structure of the book, I found the time jumps confusing sometimes and they interrupted the flow of the story.
I also found that a lot of scenes were - in my opinion - quite unnecessary. There were a lot of filler scenes in the story, and yet the ending felt rushed and out of nowhere and left me quite confused. I did like the direction the story went in the end, and I just hoped for a little more during the last chapter. If this had been a novella, I surely would have rated it higher.
Graphic: Pedophilia, Child abuse, and Sexual content
Minor: Animal death and Death
So many complex feelings. Could have been a five star. May change.
This story was very intense and raw. Difficult to read at times. Kate Elizabeth Russell does an amazing job at depicting the horrific abuse Vanessa went through. Including the mental manipulation that even as an adult in her 30s she still struggled to live a somewhat regular life and struggle to accept what really happened. The power imbalance between Strane and Vanessa still in affect over a decade later.
The characters Strane and Vanessa felt so real. In Strane’s case disgustingly real. The way he always found a way to pass all the blame onto her. Making her feel guilty for questioning his behaviour.
“The power you hold over my life is immense. I wonder how it must feel to go about your day, masquerading as an average college girl, all the while knowing you could destroy a man with one well- placed phone call. But I still trust you. I wouldn’t send an incriminating letter if I didn’t.”
Even when she finally says it out loud to him.
“Well, it’s your fault, you know,” I say. A pause. “Ok.” “Everything wrong with me originated with you.” “Let’s not do this.” “You created this mess.” “Baby, go to bed.” “Am I wrong?” I ask. “Tell me I’m wrong.” I stare up at a water stain stretching across the ceiling. Finally, he says, “I know it’s what you believe.”
Strane even puts so much doubt into her mind. That it’s her fault if someone else shows interest. That she caused it. She is to always be blamed.
“Vanessa, stay away from him,” he says. I screw up my face, fake indignation. “What are you talking about?” “Be a good girl,” he says. “You know what you’re capable of.”
Throughout the book there are moments Vanessa knows the truth. But it’s like she is too afraid of what that truly means. My heart broke for her. She was so young and he preyed on her. Using her insecurities. Even up until the end. He never gave her a chance.
“I just really need it to be a love story. You know? I really, really need it to be that.” “I know,” she says. “Because if it isn’t a love story, then what is it?”
I can’t say I enjoyed this. This isn’t the type of book you enjoy. It’s a,book that leaves you uncomfortable. A book that stays with you. It’s so well written.
Throughout the book I just wanted to take Vanessa away from him. Protect her. Help her see the truth. Get to the point of acceptance. To where she can start to find a way through it. To stop letting him ruin her life.
I think this was a hard book where it takes a long time to get to what makes it valuable, but it was valuable. This is a first person (mostly) account of sexual abuse, and as a result the reader sees just how controlling, and how defining the grooming abusers do is for survivors. Vanessa isn’t always a sympathetic protagonist, but that is the point I think. She doesn’t need to be a perfect victim because no such thing exists, nor should it matter for us to sympathize with her experience. In the end, I think the healing moments are subtle and tender and fragile, much like they might be in real life. All this is an achievement.
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