Drowning Instinct by Ilsa J. Bick, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Drowning Instinct

Drowning Instinct

4.7 21
by Ilsa J. Bick

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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 fairy tale. 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 Iraq. And then, of course, there was the


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 fairy tale. 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 Iraq. And then, of course, there was the time she almost died in a fire.

There are stories where the monster gets the girl, and everyone cries 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.

Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Holly Storm
Drowning Instinct excellently addresses the psychology of a sixteen-year-old girl in a troubled home. Bick's writing brings you inside Jenna's mind until you cannot help but sympathize, even after her most objectionable decisions. The conflict is fresh and keeps you on edge regarding whether characters should be trusted or suspected. The writing style, however, contradicts the premise: that Jenna is speaking aloud to a listener. Regardless, the book has the potential to be very popular among teenage readers. Reviewer: Holly Storm, Teen Reviewer
VOYA - Geri Diorio
As the story begins, sixteen-year-old Jenna is in a hospital emergency room with a police detective giving her a voice recorder so she can make a statement. Although she is described as suffering from severe hypothermia, uncontrollable trembling, and the inability to speak, as soon as he leaves, she begins recording, and the rest of the book is her narration. What comes out is a tale of sexual abuse, parental neglect, self-harm, and an affair with a teacher at her high school, all told through Jenna's (rather unreliable) point of view. In an afterward, the author, a child psychiatrist, explains that she wanted to "present a situation in which there are no stereotypical predators or victims." This ambiguity makes for a powerful story, and readers will squirm with concern for Jenna, but the writing is simultaneously lovely and odd. The descriptions of the winter landscape are evocative, and the pace of the plot is unrelenting. Yet, no one speaks the way the book is written and the story is meant to be spoken word. There is much exact dialog; is Jenna performing voices? After long passages that immerse the reader in the story, Jenna will address the officer directly by name, jarringly breaking the narrative spell. This is an ambitious book that would have been more powerful if structured differently. Reviewer: Geri Diorio
Children's Literature - Beverley Fahey
Pulled from a frozen lake and shivering on a gurney, sixteen year old Jenna Lord begins to chronicle her life in a tape recorder for the detective investigating her case. Her father is a control freak, her mother a self-absorbed alcoholic and Jenna has always relied on her brother Matt for comfort and support. Now he is far away in Iraq. Having survived a near fatal fire, episodes of cutting and a recent stay in a mental hospital, Jenna is attempting to begin life anew at a high school for high achieving science students. There she meets chemistry teacher Mitch Anderson, a caring teacher/mentor, coach, and friend. She is physically and emotionally seduced by Mr. Anderson and soon finds herself hopelessly in love and blind to his intentions. The taut narrative builds to a suspenseful climax and astute readers will quickly see through Mitch's lies and ascertain that there are deep secrets surrounding both Mitch and her brother Matt. Here is a novel filled with monsters, some disguised as saviors, all preying on a fragile and desperate young girl. Jenna's voice as she narrates her troubled life is at time flippant and cold but remains strong throughout as she reveals the heartache behind her less than fairy tale life. Teen readers will stick with the convoluted telling on the strength of the strong writing and compelling story. Because of the adult themes and situations, this is more suited to older teens. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Jenna, 16, is vulnerable, abused, and broken. Her dad is a controlling workaholic, her mom is a drunk, and her brother, who had been her salvation, left to serve in Iraq. Following a stint in a psychiatric facility, she enrolls in a new school where she forms a special attachment with charismatic teacher and coach Mitch Anderson, who has a special way of connecting to students with problems. The novel begins in the aftermath of a tragic event. To explain it, Jenna speaks into a police detective's recorder and relates the story of her life, which she says "begins with Mr. Anderson." Her tale is akin to viewing a slow-motion train wreck. Readers are horrified, and know immediately that there's no sunny outcome, but at the same time they won't be able to tear themselves away. Jenna's voice is convincing; she's intelligent and wryly flippant as she records her story of sexual abuse. Her tone is realistic; at times it is filled with raw emotion and then juxtaposed with a dispassionate retelling of events as though no one could be expected to maintain that level of emotion. The novel begins slowly but quickly builds steam-and controversy-with unexpected turns and revelations. Neither the victims nor the predators are stereotypical and that ambiguity, while unsettling, is sure to spark discussion.—Patricia N. McClune, Conestoga Valley High School, Lancaster, PA
Kirkus Reviews
Bearing scars both literal and figurative, Jenna Lord, 16, falls for Mitch Anderson, the married chemistry teacher who helps her survive a rocky start at a Wisconsin science magnet school. Years earlier, Jenna was maimed in a house fire. Today she copes with stress by e-mailing her beloved brother, a Marine in Iraq, and by self-mutilation, which recently earned her a stint in a hospital psychiatric ward. Isolated, with a domineering, plastic-surgeon dad and alcoholic, bookstore-owner mom, Jenna's increasingly smitten with Mitch, who goes out of his way to advocate for her and invite her into his life. Jenna's voice is edgily authentic, but other characters seem to consist entirely of symptoms--case studies in uncontrolled violence, rape, self-mutilation, victim-grooming and sexual and substance abuse. The one exception, a refreshingly normal classmate and potential boyfriend, is soon left behind. The framing conceit (Jenna dictates her story to a detective who has given her a digital recorder) is distancing. Readers will easily unravel the tired, central plot twist, but they may be confused when Jenna morphs abruptly, without explanation, from a teenager under surveillance--lacking cell phone, driver's license, privacy--into a free spirit enjoying all of the above. Readers will find a more challenging, original take on abuse, abusers and recovery in Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels (2008). (Fiction. 15 & up)

Product Details

Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.70(d)
710L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Ilsa J. Bick is a child psychiatrist, as well as a film scholar, surgeon wannabe, former Air Force major, and award-winning author of dozens of short stories and novels, including the critically acclaimed Draw the Dark and Ashes. Ilsa lives with her family and other furry creatures near a Hebrew cemetery in rural Wisconsin. One thing she loves about the neighbors: They are very quiet and only come around for sugar once in a blue moon.

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