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Drowning Instinct

Drowning Instinct

4.7 21
by Ilsa J. Bick, Kathleen McInerney (Read by)

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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 - Audio
Gr 10 Up—Jenna Lord, 16, recounts her "fairy tale with teeth and claws" from her hospital bed in Ilsa Bick's novel (Carolrhoda Books, 2012) in which severe dysfunctional behavior is the norm. Jenna has recently spent four months in a psych ward for a cutting addiction. Every adult in the teenager's life is unreliable and inadequate. She refers to her philandering, violent physician father as "psycho dad" and her mother as the "crispy critter" drunk. Jenna's grandfather has sexually abused her and her father's partner attempts to rape her. Possibly worst of all is the inappropriate behavior from a trusted, married teacher and coach twice Jenna's age. Jenna's compulsive, repetitive communication with her brother, who is on active duty in Iraq, exposes an additional tragedy. The drama goes on and on, and through it all Jenna maintains a straight A average in school. Trite statements such as "I see only you" and "I'm here for you" are interspersed throughout. The dismissive, critical portrayal of counselors and psychiatric programs may deter students who genuinely need professional intervention from seeking it. Other than mispronouncing the names of several Wisconsin towns, Kathleen McInerney's masterful performance ensures that each character and scene is easily visualized and experienced. However, the quality of the presentation does not make up for the story's flaws.—Rebecca James, Currey Ingram Academy, Brentwood, TN
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

Brilliance Audio
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 5.50(h) x 1.12(d)
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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Drowning Instinct 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have never written a review before. Nor have i ever been so emotionally attached to a book. This book is a definite must have. I fihished it in one day because i just could not put it down. Right from the start I liked Mr. Anderson. Or should i say Mitch? He isn't persistent or annoying. I found myself anticipating his arrival in each chapter. And i love Jenna. I understood her so well throughout the book. I had no clue as to what to expect at the end, it was very unpredictable. Please dont delay in getting this book. This is coming from a teenage girl who isn't into "romantic" books nor do I agree with a relationship between a student and there teacher. Yet Now, this is my favorite book hands down.
Keely-Ann More than 1 year ago
Holy. Hell. What an emotional ride.. I think I experienced every possible feeling a human being can have reading this little heartbreaker. "They call it the drowning instinct. It's when drowning doesn't look like drowning. ... you don't look like you're in trouble. You don't scream, but that's because you can't... You're just there, so people don't notice your dying. ..." I read it practically in one sitting ~ unable to put it down ~ and I remember looking up from it from time to time, catching the breathe I didn't realize I was holding, and shaking my head in disbelief as if the movement would knock the shock out of me. There are some very controversial elements in this story ~ factors that have seemed to influence some readers to give this book a more negative review. An older man. A teenage girl. High school teacher. Troubled student. Sounds like a recipe for disaster ~ or at least some jail time. But, although situations like this would ordinarily cause me to cringe, I actually felt... hope?... for these two tragically broken people... The story is told in Jenna's voice as she "confesses" the truth of an incident into a policeman's tape recorder.. And from the very start, it's made completely clear that she is... damaged... Jenna has been ~ nearly literally ~ through Hell, back, Hell, and back again... Her family is a well-masked mess, and she has the horrific urge to release her pain through seeing her own blood seep from her skin ~ she's a cutter, but she's trying not to be... She moves to a new school ~ one she thought would be like any other, until she meets Mitch...er...Mr. Anderson. It begins innocent enough. A well intentioned teacher trying to help one of his students thrive... so when does it come to the point where it crosses the line? The thing is, Mitch is just as torn apart, and he sees a mirror image of his broken heart in Jenna.... They seem to feel that they pull strength from each other's tragedies... but, at the same time, they destroy each other and themselves... This book is almost overwhelming at times.. Jenna is struck hard with one obstacle after another ~ it's amazing she's able to hold on at all.. A drunken mother and Psycho Dad ~ parents who are too busy with their own dysfunctional relationship to see what is happening with their daughter. A pedophile for a grandfather, a brother away at war... and in the middle of all that, her beacon of hope, Mitch Anderson... the only one who sees her and brings her the truth.. or does he? The writing is poetic and Jenna's voice distinct in its resigned tone. Not a light read with its elements of self-destruction, denial, and betrayal.. But oh-so-worth your time.. Five out of five stars from this reader.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was amazing. Very well writen the main character had an amazingly clear voice and mind unlike some of tge other books I have read. I felt with Jenna and I can also relate to her on many things. The ending always gets me and makes me emotinal. I fell in love with jennna and also with mitch. This is a must read !!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This bok is just amazing. I will admit it was a bit hard for me to get into it at first,but once I was hooked I could not set it down. I think her writing style is phenomenal, and she truly knows how to ask life's hardest questions in such a unique way. My favrite author of all time now. I just started White Space and I'm already hooked. Love Ilsa so much!
eternalised More than 1 year ago
This book was amazing. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, with a great cast of characters. Main character Jenna has gone through so much that she seems distant, cold, but at the same time as reader you can’t help but connect with her. Jenna’s hardships just about broke my heart. Don’t start reading this one if you’re looking for something light, but if you want a book that’ll change your life, this is an excellent choice. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TheSeparates More than 1 year ago
Absolutely amazing read. A novel that will make your chest ache. This is one of those books that you read, and it stays in your brain for days after. And then after those days pass, you'll still think about it every now and then. It certainly was and is that way for me. Jenna is a girl who doesn't have much. The "not much" applies to the aspects of life people generally want the most: friends, family, happiness, love. And she doesn't ask for more either. She just zombies through her days. That is until she meets Mr. Anderson. And he seems to be the perfect teacher, a brilliant man, and a loving father and husband.   And he shows her the first act of kindness, more than anyone else in the novel seems to have done for her. But then you'll think , Is he saving her? Or, is he drowning her?  You can try to decide that after you read the book, but this might be one of the novels where you won't be able to find an answer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I saw this book in the store and it was the only one left. I read the back and didn't think it sounded spectacular. But I read the prologue and was hooked. I didn't buy the book then, but went back about a month later and it was still there. I bought it. I was completely addicted and probably would have finished the book in one day if I didn't have school. I like Mr. Anderson from the beginning and couldn't wait until his arrival in each chapter. However the ending and a little before that I hated the book. I guess I just don't like romances nor teacher and student romances. The ending did schock me. I actually was depressed after the book. I made myself get out of it but, everytime I think of the book I literally start hating the world. It is not a book I would recommend (unless you just want to read the beginning and middle), because of the way it made me feel. I just don't agree with what they did. I also didn't like what she did in the very ending. Like the last sentece, I mean how could you do that to Bob?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is phenomenal and i will never forget it.
The_Busy_Bibliophile More than 1 year ago
After reading Katie’s review of Drowning Instinct over at Blook Girl, I picked up the audio version, and I’m so glad I did. Jenna is rescued from a near-drowning and while in the hospital, an officer gives her a tape recorder and asks her to record what happened, how she ended up in the frozen lake. So she starts at the beginning: her troubled home life, her arrival at a new school and everything that happens after. She pulls no punches and spares no details. Jenna is a hot mess. She’s had an unfortunate upbringing which includes a fire that nearly killed her, being molested, living with a drunk mother and a super controlling father, being abandoned by her military-bound brother and self cutting. Unsurprisingly, she has some issues. She was a likable character, though. She had her moments of whining or brattiness, but she deserves some slack. The infamous teacher, Mitch, well… I had some issues. He’s relatable and nice enough, and I understand he has his own issues, but he’s an adult. I’ve seen many reviews that say this story shows it’s not all black and white, that there are some gray areas, but I disagree. An adult is an adult is an adult. He should know better, no matter what’s going on in his life. But, let’s put that aside for now and just go with it, for the sake of this review. As a general character, I did like Mitch. He was kind and friendly and I think he truly wanted to be there for Jenna, who clearly needed someone to be on her side. The other characters were there to be mean or bad to our 2 main characters, so we’d feel sorry for them. And they succeeded. They weren’t full characters, more like caricatures of people. But that’s okay, they served their purpose and I really just wanted to spend more time with Mitch and Jenna. Because even though I would oppose such a relationship in real life, I loved reading about it! They had some great scenes together, very sweet and romantic (if maybe a bit clinical). Ilsa J. Bick has a way with words (not a surprise to me, having read her book Ashes), but I was still impressed with the way she weaved the story together. There was a bit of action, a lot of mystery, some romance and even witty dialogue. Several times I found myself anxious to know what happened next, and this was the only frustrating part about listening to the audio version – where I would normally skip a bit to get to the next scene, because I just couldn’t wait, I was forced to wait for the narrator to get there. Speaking of the narrator, Kathleen McInerney did a fabulous job of bringing the story to life. At first I thought she sounded too young, but it worked and she soon became Jenna. Also, since the entire story is Jenna speaking into a microphone, there was a certain “rightness” of listening to the story, as opposed to reading it. This is sometimes a hard story, for the subject matter, but it’s an interesting one. The writing is taut and kept me on the edge of my seat many times. And you know that bit from the book’s summary: "There are stories where the girl gets her prince, and they live happily ever after. (This is not one of those stories.)" Keep that bit in mind. The Sum Up: I love everything about this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hard to follow at first but okay overall.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read plenty of books before this but i have to say this one is now listed as one of my top favorites. The book was amazing. Definitely something to read.
AminaA More than 1 year ago
WOW I could not put this book down, I hope this is not the end of the story
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Definitely one of the most interesting novels I've read so far this year. If you want a book that's not your average love story, this is for you (unless you really dislike anything involving a young student/teacher relationship). Despite the taboo romance, I suggest reading this book because there's simply no other story that's told as beautifully as this. I've read a few novels that involve taboo student/teacher romance and none have come up to par with this book. This story has a bittersweet romance and a plot that leads you on an emotional roller coaster. You'll feel sorry for characters, be angry at others, and be left in a panic frenzy wondering what will happen next. How the story closes off is not something I would have expected...but then again, there's a lot of things you'd have never expected to occur in this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Possibly one of the most emotionally intense books I have ever read. Anyone who loves staying on their toes while they are reading will absolutely love it.
Coot More than 1 year ago
read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So good! I loved it so much I wrote to the author and she was so nice! A must-read in my book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Even though it was hard to like Jenna, the main character, I was still able to enjoy the book. Just like Romeo and Juliet, this book was very tragic. I had a very different story in mind after reading the summary, so it was hard to adjust to the book. Jenna isn't a very sane person, and sometimes it was just too hard to imagine her mind and point of view. I had such a frustrating time reading this book, I hated some characters, and then the book would change my mind. In the end, i really enjoyed this book. Even though, it left me in tears.