Review: Drowning Instinct - Ilsa J. Bick

Release Date: February 1st, 2013
Published By: Lerner Publishing Group
Pages: 352
Goodreads: Add it to your reading list

Rating: 4 out of 5

Synopsis: There are stories where the girl gets her prince, and they live happily ever after. (This is not one of those stories.)

Jenna Lord’s first sixteen years were not exactly a fairytale. Her father is a controlling psycho and her mother is a drunk. She used to count on her older brother—until he shipped off to Afghanistan. And then, of course, there was the time she almost died in a fire.

There are stories where the monster gets the girl, and we all shed tears for his innocent victim. (This is not one of those stories either.)

Mitch Anderson is many things: A dedicated teacher and coach. A caring husband. A man with a certain… magnetism.

And there are stories where it’s hard to be sure who’s a prince and who’s a monster, who is a victim and who should live happily ever after. (These are the most interesting stories of all.)

Drowning Instinct is a novel of pain, deception, desperation, and love against the odds—and the rules.

Review: If you want sunshine and rainbows, if you a want happily ever after, if you want boy to meet girl and instantly fall in love and have the perfect relationship – then you will not get what you want from this book. You will however get a great book full of pain, hidden secrets and deception. Drowning Instinct is chaotic, dark and twisted – it pushes the boundaries of YA, blurs many lines and touches many subjects that most authors would not. This is not a light read – I would recommend it for readers above 17 years old.

Jenna Lord is a 16 year old girl who has suffered significantly most of her life. When she was 8 she almost died in a fire, and she still has the scars to prove it – both physically and emotionally. Her family life is one of the worst I have read in a YA book – her parents are the true definition of dysfunctional; her mother is an alcoholic, her father is an abusive ‘psycho’, and the only family member that Jenna feels that she can turn to is her brother Matt, who is has joined the Marines and is in Afghanistan (her parents have also disowned Matt when he enlisted and pretend he doesn’t exist).

Jenna is incredibly broken and has many psychological problems (most notably is her struggle with cutting) and has recently spent time in a psychiatric ward. Jenna is forced to go to a new school, Turing High, which is known for having gifted but yet troubled students, and as you might expect, her first day goes disastrously wrong –including being at school hours before school starts (her dad was supposed to arrange for the library to be open for her to wait in), a run in the creepy school janitor, seeing a teacher nearly naked, being be-friended by the pushy boy and making an enemy of the pushy boy’s girlfriend.

School is no walk in the park, but life goes on as Jenna expected – she will retain her high grades, will continue to be the school freak and live her life as a loner. Until, she becomes closer to the nearly naked teacher she met on the first day – Mr Alderson. This relationship starts to cross a lot of boundaries – which of course is one of the main storylines of this book. However, the relationship between Jenna and Mitch Alderson is not the standard student/teacher relationship - it is extremely complex. They both believe that the other may be the person that can save them from tormented past, heal them – that they can save each other from drowning.

This book is in a very unique format – it is told by Jenna, as she is recalling her story into a police officer’s recorder. Why she is talking to the police is unknown at the beginning of this book – and therefore pretty much captures your interest straight away – was she the victim of something? Or was she the villain?

Jenna is extremely troubled, but so other most of the characters in this book, and as the story goes by, you will get to see some of their hidden secrets too. There are clues to multiple characters storylines along the way – some things you will figure out quite easily, other things you will not realise until it hits you in the face.

Drowning instinct is very interesting in the fact that it blurs the lines between victims and predators. A fair few characters blurred these lines, however most prominent was Mitch and Jenna. At times, I feel that Jenna was her own predator, but other times she was a victim of circumstances. Drowning Instinct is a multifaceted story involving terrible situations, desperation, denial and human emotions, strength and weaknesses. Both Jenna and Mitch seem to be spinning so many lies or hiding so many secrets that at times you do not know what is real, and what is not.

The characters were told in such a way that the author didn’t try to make them better than what they actually were. I feel that Ilsa J. Bick done a wonderful job at showing that everything is not black and white and that sometimes things are just what they are. All the characters in this book are deeply troubled and have dark secrets – and I think that Ilsa J. Bick described it best in her acknowledgement “Are these damaged people? Absolutely. Are there monsters in these pages? Yes; one, for sure. Yet many relationships are bound as much by hatred as love; growth may come from damage; and reality is complex.”.

Lies, deception, love, suspicion, desperation, loyalty, secrets and emotion all come to a massive conclusion in this book, and you may end up with more questions than answers – and it probably rip your heart out along the way.


“this is a fairy tale with teeth and claws”

“I am lucky, a liar, a good girl, a princess, a thief—and a killer.”

“In the last couple of days, he must‘ve gotten hopeful that I was better, but now I‘d gone all Drama Queen—and, well, crazy is as crazy does.”

“The only way I live through each day is to pretend I‘m already gone.”

“I might be nuts, but I wasn‘t crazy.”

“They call it the drowning instinct. It‘s when drowning doesn‘t look like drowning”

“What’s the point of not taking chances? I don’t know if I could stand living my whole life afraid.”

“I knew what that meant, too, because I‘d been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.”

“There were probably secrets because you never can outrun the past. I read somewhere that people are the accumulation of their experiences. Without your memories and secrets . . . you‘re nothing.”

What do you think?

  • Kim says:

    I’ve really been meaning to read this one. I like Bick, but every time I’ve read one of her books, the endings have kind of killed me. This sounds really different form her other work and pretty intense. Thanks for reminding me I have to read it :)

    • Kristy @ Book Nerd Reviews says:

      Hi Kim

      This was the first book I have read by this author, and I was impressed. I will be putting her others on my ever-growing list of things to read.

      I hope you enjoy it :)

  • This is one of my absolute favorite books! I think Bick did a fantastic job with the subject matter, challenging the reader’s convictions of right and wrong and making something so taboo seem acceptable. The entire text was such a punch in the gut. So glad you enjoyed this one!

    • Kristy says:

      Hi Renae
      Completely agree. It was extremely well written, and it sticks with you after reading it - mainly trying to work out what to believe and what not to :)

  • krystal canales says:

    Anderson* sorry that got on my nerves

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