Book Clubbin’: 10 Discussion Questions for ‘My Dark Vanessa’ by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Welcome to our monthly blog feature, Book Clubbin’!

With social distancing measures still in place, you may find yourself at home more than usual and in search of something new to keep you interested and entertained. So, we think that now is the perfect time to pick up a new listen and start a virtual book club with a few friends.

Even though you may find yourself at home more, you may not actually have any spare time to pick up a book. This is where audiobooks come in. They’re perfect for multi-tasking, so you can listen while you work, do chores, while the kids are napping, or even while you’re out for a walk to get some fresh air.

Our pick for May is My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, narrated by Grace Gummer. This debut has already become an instant New York Times and Sunday Times bestseller and has sparked news articles about it due to its controversial subject matter.

My Dark Vanessa explores the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher. We see the story jump back-and-forth from Vanessa’s teenage years to her life present day, dealing with her relationship with her teacher, how it affected her, and what she will do when faced with a major decision during the era of #MeToo.

This month’s pick is a heavy listen, but an important read that we think people will be talking about for a long time to come. If you’re ready to start discussing My Dark Vanessa, get started with the questions below. Beware — SPOILERS ahead.

—————MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!————

1) What is your opinion of Strane? Would you consider his character “sick” or “bad?”

2) Do you think your opinion of Vanessa, Strane, and their relationship would change if Vanessa had been 18 years-old when their relationship first started? 

3) Since he had been a teacher for a long time before crossing paths with Vanessa, do you think Strane pursued other students before her? 

4) Do you think that Strane views his actions as truly “wrong” or do his only worries stem from the potential backlash and repercussions that he may face if it all becomes public?

5) My Dark Vanessa jumps between Vanessa’s experience as a teen and her experience as an adult. What changes do you notice in Vanessa and which, if any, can be attributed to her relationship with Strane? 

6) Why do you think Vanessa and Taylor had such different responses to Strane’s advances? And why was Taylor more willing to come forward than Vanessa was? 

7) We get a glimpse into how Strane’s behavior would be handled in present day with his looming trial, but how different would this story have been if Vanessa had been a teenager in the current age of #MeToo? 

8) How do you interpret the importance of Lolita throughout My Dark Vanessa? And how does it relate to both Vanessa and Strane? 

9) How do you think The Browick School handled the situation when it was brought to their attention the first time around with Vanessa and Strane? Do you think the school should be at least somewhat held responsible for their actions or lack thereof? 

10) Did My Dark Vanessa change your opinions on consent and victimhood? Would you consider Vanessa a victim?


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March’s Top 10 Audiobooks.com Member Downloads

Listen to last month’s most popular fiction and non-fiction titles downloaded by Audiobooks.com members.


Fiction

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, narrated by Jennifer Lim

Publisher Summary:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned—from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren—an enigmatic artist and single mother—who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town—and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides.  Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Read more and sample the audio →


Blindside by James Patterson and James O. Born, narrated by Danny Mastrogiorgio

Publisher Summary:

The mayor of New York has a daughter who’s missing and in danger. Detective Michael Bennett has a son who’s in prison. The two strike a deal.
Bennett and the mayor have always had a tense relationship, but now the mayor sees in Bennett a discreet investigator with family worries of his own. Just one father helping another.

The detective leaps into the case and sources lead him to a homicide in the Bronx. The victim has ties to a sophisticated hacking operation—and also to the mayor’s missing daughter, Natalie, a twenty-one-year-old computer prodigy. The murder is part of a serial killing spree, one with national security implications. And suddenly Bennett is at the center of a dangerous triangle anchored by NYPD, FBI, and a transnational criminal organization.

Michael Bennett has always been an honorable man, but sometimes—when the lives of innocents are at stake—honor has to take a back seat. Survival comes first.

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You Are Not Alone by Greer HendricksSarah Pekkanen, narrated by Barrie KreinikDylan Moore

Publisher Summary:

Shay Miller wants to find love, but it eludes her. She wants to be fulfilled, but her job is a dead end. She wants to belong, but her life is increasingly lonely.

Until Shay meets the Moore sisters. Cassandra and Jane live a life of glamorous perfection, and always get what they desire. When they invite Shay into their circle, everything seems to get better.

Shay would die for them to like her.

She may have to.

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Long Range by C.J. Box, narrated by David Chandler

Publisher Summary:

The wife of a prominent local judge is shot and killed on Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett’s turf. But as Joe investigates, all signs point to the shot having been taken from an impossibly long distance. Joe has seen a lot in his time as warden, but he’s never seen a killing like this. How could the shooting have been arranged? And who else is in the cross hairs?

At the same time—just as he’s adjusting to the arrival of a new baby, his first child—Joe’s best friend Nate Romanowski is attempting to decipher a startling grizzly attack in the area.

Beset by threats both man-made and natural, the two men must go to great lengths to figure out how to keep their loved ones safe.

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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, narrated by Grace Gummer

Publisher Summary:

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 Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

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Non-Fiction

Educated by Tara Westover, narrated by Julia Whelan

Publisher Summary:

An unforgettable memoir about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a Ph.D. from Cambridge University.

Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

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Open Book by Jessica Simpson, narrated by Jessica Simpson

Publisher Summary:

Jessica reveals for the first time her inner monologue and most intimate struggles. Guided by the journals she’s kept since age fifteen, and brimming with her unique humor and down-to-earth humanity, Open Book is as inspiring as it is entertaining.

This was supposed to be a very different book. Five years ago, Jessica Simpson was approached to write a motivational guide to living your best life. She walked away from the offer, and nobody understood why. The truth is that she didn’t want to lie.

Jessica couldn’t be authentic with her readers if she wasn’t fully honest with herself first.

Now America’s Sweetheart, preacher’s daughter, pop phenomenon, reality tv pioneer, and the billion-dollar fashion mogul invites readers on a remarkable journey, examining a life that blessed her with the compassion to help others, but also burdened her with an almost crippling need to please. Open Book is Jessica Simpson using her voice, heart, soul, and humor to share things she’s never shared before.

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Untamed by Glennon Doyle, narrated by Glennon Doyle

Publisher Summary:

This is how you find yourself.

There is a voice of longing inside each woman. We strive so mightily to be good: good partners, daughters, mothers, employees, and friends. We hope all this striving will make us feel alive. Instead, it leaves us feeling weary, stuck, overwhelmed, and underwhelmed. We look at our lives and wonder: Wasn’t it all supposed to be more beautiful than this? We quickly silence that question, telling ourselves to be grateful, hiding our discontent—even from ourselves.

For many years, Glennon Doyle denied her own discontent. Then, while speaking at a conference, she looked at a woman across the room and fell instantly in love. Three words flooded her mind: There She Is. At first, Glennon assumed these words came to her from on high. But she soon realized they had come to her from within. This was her own voice—the one she had buried beneath decades of numbing addictions, cultural conditioning, and institutional allegiances. This was the voice of the girl she had been before the world told her who to be. Glennon decided to quit abandoning herself and to instead abandon the world’s expectations of her. She quit being good so she could be free. She quit pleasing and started living.

Soulful and uproarious, forceful and tender, Untamed is both an intimate memoir and a galvanizing wake-up call. It is the story of how one woman learned that a responsible mother is not one who slowly dies for her children, but one who shows them how to fully live. It is the story of navigating divorce, forming a new blended family, and discovering that the brokenness or wholeness of a family depends not on its structure but on each member’s ability to bring her full self to the table. And it is the story of how each of us can begin to trust ourselves enough to set boundaries, make peace with our bodies, honor our anger and heartbreak, and unleash our truest, wildest instincts so that we become women who can finally look at ourselves and say: There She Is.

Untamed shows us how to be brave. As Glennon insists: The braver we are, the luckier we get.

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Atomic Habits by James Clear, narrated by James Clear

Publisher Summary:

No matter your goals, Atomic Habits offers a proven framework for improving–every day. James Clear, one of the world’s leading experts on habit formation, reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.

If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. Here, you’ll get a proven system that can take you to new heights.

Clear is known for his ability to distill complex topics into simple behaviors that can be easily applied to daily life and work. Here, he draws on the most proven ideas from biology, psychology, and neuroscience to create an easy-to-understand guide for making good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible. Along the way, readers will be inspired and entertained with true stories from Olympic gold medalists, award-winning artists, business leaders, life-saving physicians, and star comedians who have used the science of small habits to master their craft and vault to the top of their field.

Learn how to:
• make time for new habits (even when life gets crazy);
• overcome a lack of motivation and willpower;
• design your environment to make success easier;
• get back on track when you fall off course;
…and much more.

Atomic Habits will reshape the way you think about progress and success, and give you the tools and strategies you need to transform your habits–whether you are a team looking to win a championship, an organization hoping to redefine an industry, or simply an individual who wishes to quit smoking, lose weight, reduce stress, or achieve any other goal.

Read more and sample the audio →


The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson, narrated by Erik LarsonJohn Lee

Publisher Summary:

On Winston Churchill’s first day as prime minister, Adolf Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to Churchill to hold his country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally—and willing to fight to the end.

In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports—some released only recently—Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela’s illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turns in the hardest moments.
 
The Splendid and the Vile takes readers out of today’s political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when, in the face of unrelenting horror, Churchill’s eloquence, courage, and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together.

Read more and sample the audio →


New to Audiobooks.com? Get your first book free, PLUS a bonus book from our VIP selection when you sign up for our one-month free trial. Digital audiobooks make audible stories come to life when you’re commuting, working out, cleaning, cooking, and more! Listening is easy with our top-rated free audiobook apps for iOS and Android, which let you download & listen to bestselling audiobooks on the go, wherever you are. Click here to get your free audiobooks!

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