Author: Ilsa J. Bick
Publication Date: January 28, 2012
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.)
WARNING!!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!!!!!
Jenna Lord is sixteen years old and is a walking disaster. After being severely burned in a fire as a child, having a drunk for a mother and a crazy power-hungry father and a brother that leaves home to join the Marines as soon as he is old enough, Jenna has become a cutter. After a few months locked in a mental ward, she is finally cleared for release and set to start at a new school.
That is where she meets Mr. Anderson, her chemistry teacher and also the school track coach. Jenna is an athlete and Mr. Anderson is looking to recruit her to the team. After a very rocky start at the new school and one girl, Danielle, who for no good reason makes Jenna her target, Mr. Anderson is the only friend she has. What starts innocently enough as a teacher genuinely wanting to help the new girl adjust, the relationship between the two quickly intensifies and spirals out of control.
I honestly don't know where to begin this review. I finished Drowning Instinct last night and I haven't been able to think of anything else since then. When I started reading yesterday, I wasn't very far into the book, maybe fifty pages. I sat and read the 250+ remaining pages in one sitting, I just couldn't look away. You know that feeling you get in your stomach when you know something is going to happen but you don't know what or when and your stomach cramps up in anticipation and you are just so nervous? That is how I sat for hours while reading this book, hunched up with this immense pain in my gut thinking "this can only get worse for them". Rarely does a book give me such a reaction.
Drowning Instinct is one big block of awesome. Intense, emotional, rip your gut out kind of awesome. When we first meet Jenna, we don't really know what her issue is. Yes, we know she is a cutter and she was in a fire, but why does she cut? Her father is extremely distant and doesn't seem to care about anything other than himself and her mother is too busy with her bookstore and alcohol to notice her half the time. They treat her like she is five, not sixteen. Matt, her brother, is gone to war and the only thing getting Jenna through are his emails. As the story progresses, we learn more and more about Jenna's life and all the horrible things that happened to her. Cutting starts to make sense.
You know from the blurb that something is going to happen between Jenna and Mr. Anderson, but what? Oh, you know. One hell of a teacher/student romance is starting and whether you are for it or against it you can't help but fly through these pages trying to devour as much of their story as possible. Bick does an absolutely amazing job with this relationship. Who is the predator? The victim? People always blame the adult in these situations, as you should obviously, but nothing is ever black and white. What Bick shows us is that sometimes there are no clear lines of who is right and who is wrong, things happen and more than one person can be at fault. Here is a quote from the author's acknowledgments that I think expresses this story perfectly:
"In my experience, the truly evil are few and good people, with the very best of intentions, often make very bad decisions and get in way over their heads before they know it. People drown, quietly, before our eyes all the time."
Does Mr. Anderson know what he is doing is wrong? Yes. Is he a predator? I don't know. If I am being completely honest here, I have to admit that I wanted their relationship to work. I really, truly did. Mitch (Mr. Anderson) needed someone to be there for him just as much as Jenna did and I think they gave each other something that they both were in desperate need of: to be seen and heard. You know this relationship is wrong as you are reading it but at the same time you can't help think "oh please let this work." But, as we know from the synopsis, this is not a happy ending.
I don't want to give away anything else because you really need to read this one for yourself to get the whole impact. However, I do have to mention the ending. Oh. My. God. I had to go back and read it three times because my heart was just exploding and I was desperate for more information. Is he or isn't he? That's all I can say. You need to read this. Go, right now. Run to your nearest book store and get your hands on this book. Lock yourself in a room and don't come out until you are just as desperate as I am.
Oh, Miss Bick. You got me good.