Drowning Instinct - Ilsa J. Bick
Genre: Contemporary; YA; Realistic Fiction
Summary: Jenna Lord, a sixteen-year-old trying her best to navigate her way through high school, has anything but an ideal life. When she was younger, she was caught in a house fire that left burns all over her body. As if that wasn’t enough, she also has an ambivalent mother, a psycho father, a brother who is half a world away in a war zone, and nobody that she can really lean on. That is, of course, until she meets Mr. Anderson, a chemistry teacher at her high school. Will things ever go right in Jenna’s life?
Review: Holy wow, where do I even begin with Drowning Instinct? I’ve always been drawn to dark, heavy subject matter, and Bick certainly delivers here. This book shook me up, made me uncomfortable, and caused my heart to ache for the protagonist, Jenna. While the gloominess here won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, it is certainly mine, and I was on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading this.
Do you ever read one of those books where you’re trying your best not to read ahead because, even though you’re dying to know what happens, you don’t want to miss a single word? Drowning Instinct definitely elicited that reaction from me. A sense of foreboding shrouded this entire book, yet I couldn’t pull myself away from it. The tension within the pages was incredibly well done, and I couldn’t wait to see how everything came together in the end.
Viewing the story through Jenna’s eyes was distressing and wonderful at the same time. I felt really badly about her lot in life, yet if the story was told from a different characters’ perspective, it would not have had the same impact on the reader. Even though things in Jenna’s world were extraordinarily bleak, she still kept on resiliently. She made a ton of questionable decisions throughout the book and it was sometimes hard to distinguish whether Jenna really was telling the whole truth, which made her an authentic teenager.
The side characters were also really well done, and most of them were just as interesting as the narrator herself. One of the standout characters for me was definitely Jenna’s arch nemesis, Danielle. I would have loved to learn more about what was going on in her life, as it seemed just as twisted as Jenna’s.
I also need to comment on Mr. Anderson. Towards the beginning of the story, having Jenna as the narrator almost made me sympathetic toward Mr. Anderson, which shocked and horrified me. I knew exactly what was coming in this regard, yet I was still fascinated enough to see what would happen. I also liked how Bick developed his character further as the novel went on, effectively highlighting who he really was, which added to the illusory theme that was rampant in Drowning Instinct.
Additionally, the twists and surprises in this story often had me reeling, especially the things that came spilling out towards the end. The web of deceit was intricate and wholly believable, and the book moved at a really good pace to keep things interesting.
If you enjoy dark, suspenseful YA books that draw attention to the fact that life isn’t always a bed of roses, Drowning Instinct is a must read!
Author Read-alikes: Laurie Halse Anderson, Ellen Hopkins