Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

I received a copy of the ARC of My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell at a Harper Presents event. The blurb sounded interesting and relevant.

Genre: Adult Fiction, Contemporary

Blurb:

Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of RoomMy Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself. 

My thoughts:

The novel shows the slow steps that Strane, the teacher, takes to groom Vanessa to accept his advances, to welcome them, and even to seek him out. The reader is often reminded that Vanessa is fifteen at the time of the seduction; and that she is isolated with no friends. It seems obvious, to me at least, that Vanessa was targeted by the teacher because of this – and yet as the novel progresses Vanessa expresses the belief that she was not a victim; that instead the relationship with her much older teacher was her choice.

As I was reading the novel, I noticed the two opposing views even within Vanessa herself. It is interesting to note that not only was her body seduced but also her mind and emotions. On one level she states that the relationship was her choice – and yet small memories suggest that maybe it wasn’t. Russell adroitly juxtaposes the two, encouraging the reader to reflect on Vanessa’s experience and make a judgement.

Russell expertly describes the give and take of the relationship between Vanessa and Strane – when Vanessa was at school and also once she is an adult and working. Her writing causes the reader to feel an array of emotions both negative and positive. The novel is filled with the see-saw of emotions experienced by Vanessa – a range of emotions which filter through to the reader.

My Dark Vanessa is not an easy read and I had to set it aside for a while because of the way the story was making me feel. It was upsetting to me to read a story of how an experienced teacher takes advantage of a young girl that should have been in his care. Instead of reaching her full potential, she loses the opportunity to be her best as well as loses her innocence. In addition, I know that Vanessa’s experience is the experience of so many young girls who receive the unwanted attentions of men who have no right to foster their desires onto naive and innocent girls.

Despite the novel being a difficult read, it is one that is extremely well-written. The author takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of emotions from the start to the end of the book. The story is a relevant one for today and suggests that one think carefully before ascribing the label of victim to all the women who have been seduced when young by older men. I finished reading My Dark Vanessa having thought about the issues suggested – but still believing that the responsibility of keeping a distance does fall with the person that is older and more mature.

I give this novel ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 10th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Afternoon Tea

As Monday was a public holiday, this weekend was a long weekend. I took the time to take things slowly, relax and read, and visit my cousin whom I hadn’t seen for about 3 months.

When I arrived, the tea things had been set out. The burning candle added to the scent of the cozy atmosphere as we settled down to chat. The hours flew by quickly as we caught up on our news and spoke about whatever came to mind. The tea was good and the conversation interesting. I left at the end of the visit with a smile on my face.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This post is linked to Trent’s Weekly Smile, a challenge which focuses on sharing all things positive.)

A Valentine’s Wish

Each year, my students hand me cards for Valentine’s Day. My favourites are always the homemade cards with a personalized message inside. This year, I received one that I will have to keep.

I have a binder filled with cards that I have received in the past from my own children as well as the children I have thought. Looking through them always makes me smile and this card will be an added smile.

Did you receive any homemade cards this Valentine’s Day?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This post is linked to Trent’s Weekly Smile, a challenge which focuses on sharing all things positive.)

Book Review: The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

I was in the mood for a light read and as I browsed through my shelves, my fingers picked out The Bride Test by Helen Hoang.

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Romance

Blurb:

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love. 

My thoughts:

The characters in this story drew me in and and a cold winter’s day was the best time to get to know them. Esme is a determined young woman who has grown up in poverty and who desires a better life for herself and her family. I enjoyed reading of her experiences as she is spunky and does not give up. Khai is autistic and Hoang has described his character with dignity and sensitivity. I love the way he is presented as well as his interactions with Esme.

The Bride Test is a modern romance that focuses not only on the relationship between two people who fall in love but also in the growth of both the characters. Both Esme and Khai experience growth as both of them come to certain realisations that help them make a choice for their future happiness. What I enjoy most of modern romances, is that the man doesn’t come to the rescue of the woman. Instead, it is her own actions and choices that lead her to a better place in her life.

The relationship between Esme and Khai is beautifully described: the first touches, the sense of hesitancy, the confusion. Their relationship grows slowly and the author teases us with the development of their relationship. The pacing in the novel was a perfect reflection of the connection between Khai and Esme.

I enjoyed The Bride Test and read it in one afternoon.his novel is a perfect choice if you are looking for a light read that will put a smile on your face.

I give this novel ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 9th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

An Electrifying Experience

Yesterday, on 12 February 2020, the elementary teachers of Ontario walked out of their classroom for the fifth time this academic school year to protest the changes proposed to public education by the current conservative government. Elementary teachers are protesting the proposed cuts to special education, the increase in class sizes, and the wish to change the current kindergarten model. In addition, teachers want the government to address the issue of the violence in the classroom which is on the increase.

Yesterday, I joined the picket line at the Royal York Hotel where the Minister of Education was to speak to the Canadian Club. When I reached the venue, I was stunned at the number of people already at the site. Teachers had already begun picketing outside the hotel, and the vibe in the area was electrifying. Once all my colleagues had arrived, we joined the demonstration happening in front of the hotel.

As we marched, we chanted and made some noise with our tambourines, shakers and cow bells. There were a number of leaders at different points of the line that lead us in the chants that kept us going. The feeling of solidarity I felt energised me and gave me the zeal to continue for the next three hours.

I was happy to see that we were being noticed. The TV cameras were there: the protest was live streamed and seen in the media – unlike so many other protests that had been ignored. Our local communities had seen us, but not the larger. Yesterday, we were noticed. Yesterday, we made our voices heard.

The police presence was strong – though we did not create any problems. After all, teachers are a group of people who are used to following both the rules and the dictum “safety first”! Ours was a peaceful protest despite there being so many people in one space.

Yesterday was the most electrifying experience that I have had on the picket line. That energy has charged me and will help to keep me going on with the fight. Today, I walk into my classroom and work with the children for whom I am protesting.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

February Journaling

Last weekend, I finished setting up my bullet journal for February. My habit has been to start creating the habit trackers, then the first weekly spread, and thereafter the cover page and quote. This month I found the perfect quote in my first read of the month.

For February, I decided on snowflakes as my theme. The frosty blue colour and the reminder of snow is perfect for this month as it is the coldest of the year. I am enjoying the simplicity of the theme as well as the colour I chose to use.

In addition to using a habit tracker this month, I decided to create a mood tracker and I am filling in the snowflakes with the appropriate emoji. I think next time I will go for colour as I cannot see my average mood for the month at a swift glance. It is fun to fill in though.

I am enjoying my weekly spreads this month. I have tried out a new format find that it suits me. I like seeing my appointments at a glance as well as having my journal entry separate from the responsibilities of the week.

February is my third month of bullet journaling and I am still enjoying it especially as it gives me the opportunity to be a little creative with my doodles.

What theme are you using this month in your bullet journal?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This post is linked to The Escapist Colouring Club. You are welcome to join us and share some colouring work)

Final Words

The sky rumbled, throwing ice-cold water against the window panes. Silvia shivered as she looked outside. It felt as if she were being reprimanded for her decision but she held firm. She wasn’t going to acquiesce to her siblings’ bullying! Mom deserved a chance and disconnecting her life support would take away a hope at life.

…………………………

Tears running down her face, Sylvia gripped her mother’s hand tightly to the echo of beeping machines. She leaned forward to hear her mom’s final words. “Let me go Sylvie, my time has come.”

As the last beep faded, a life gently slipped away.

…………………………

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This post was inspired by Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle. The challenge asks for bloggers to write a story in 100 words or less in response to the photo prompt.)

Currently Reading: Be Not Far From Me

Today while travelling to and from the picket lines, I will be reading Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis. I absolutely loved her previous novel, Heroine, and look forward to reading this one.

I have chosen the novel for two reasons: the synopsis interest me; and the physical paperback is light. (No, i cannot leave it behind as I need to travel with a book to pass the time 😊)

What are you currently reading?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

Book Review: Blue Bear Woman by Virginia Pesemapeo Bordeleau

I picked up the novel Blue Bear Woman by Virginia Pesemapeo Bordeleau to read for the Toronto Public library challenge. Even though it is suitable for the category of a book written by an indigenous author, I chose it to be a book that is under 200 pages.

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Indigenous

Blurb:

Blue Bear Woman is the first novel in Quebec written by an Indigenous woman. The story of a young Cree woman’s search for her roots and identity, this is also the author’s debut novel, originally published in 2007, and it will be her second book to be published in English. The novel has been described as a “texte de resistance”, showing contemporary Indigenous life and the impact on the Cree of the building of the Eastmain dam in northern Quebec, posited as “virgin” territory, yet which has actually been part of the Cree traditional territory since time immemorial. In search of her roots, Victoria takes a trip to the country of her Cree ancestors with her companion, Daniel. It is a long journey to the north along the shores of James Bay. Colours, smells, and majestic landscapes arouse memories that soon devolve into strange and haunting dreams at night. In bits and pieces, uncles, aunties, and cousins arrive to tell the story of Victoria’s family and bring with them images of her childhood that are tinged both with joy and sadness. Guided by her totem, the Blue Bear, she returns home to make peace with her soul, as well as release the soul of her great-uncle, a hunter who has been missing in the forest for over twenty years.

My thoughts:

The novel, for me, was an interesting one in that it showed me a culture that I am not too familiar with. It was for this reason that I was eager to read the story.

However, I found the beginning of the novel to be confusing when the character Victoria moves from the present to the past; and from the dream state to reality. Often I was unclear as to what state she was in and found myself rereading paragraphs to clarify the story in my head.

I also found the writing of the text choppy at times. I remembered that the novel had been translated from French and have wondered whether the fluidity of text was lost in translation. There are moments in the novel when the text does flow beautifully thus cementing my thought that the translation may not always have been sophisticated.

This short novel gives a snapshot of Cree traditions and their way of life. Mention is made of the alcoholism that is rampant on the reservations, as well as the teenage pregnancy issue. The story is not an easy read despite it being short as the topics referred to in the novel and its format means the reader has to take time with the words.

Blue Bear Woman contains pockets of beautiful imagery – especially the second half of the novel which encouraged me to feel emotional. It is for this reason that I gave the novel three stars instead of two.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 8th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Music Monday: Picket Songs

One of the things that is keeping us warm on the picket line is music. The current music teacher at our school has compiled a Spotify playlist of songs which she plays through her speaker during the 3 hours we are on the picket line. Fight Song by Rachel Platten is one of the songs that is often played:

Stop classics have been added to the playlist like Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop:

And, of course, Don’t Stop Believing by Journey:

Her playlist has many songs on it that we enjoy. And the best thing is that the music keeps us going, the dancing keeps us warm, and the camaraderie helps the time pass a little faster.

What song would you suggest we add to our playlist?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020