Drowning Instinct by Ilsa J. Bick
Published by Lerner Publishing Group on February 1st, 2012
Shelve It: Goodreads
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.
Riveting, Drowning Instinct is a page-turner from the first few pages. Detailing the sordid affair between an emotionally frail student and her handsome, yet lonely, teacher, Drowning Instinct explores what it means to be absolutely desperate for love, so much so that one would look for love in all the wrong places. Fraught with abuse, deception and the lies one tells oneself in order to get through the day, Drowning Instinct is a dark and tumultuous story of love, hate and the lines that blur between.
With such heavy material, I was convinced I would be so emotionally connected with Jenna that her pain would feel as if it were my own. When I was able to critically analyze her budding relationship with Mr. Anderson, instead of finding myself swept up in the romanticism of it all, I knew that this wasn’t the case. Whether it was because Jenna was merely dictating her relationship with Mr. Anderson into a recorder, or because I just didn’t connect with her, I’m not sure. But I never truly felt like I knew who Jenna was, when she wasn’t defined by her traumatic past. The same is true of Mr. Anderson; while he shared much of his history with Jenna, he spoke very little of his interests as an adult. It made for some conflicting emotions as I read about their forbidden relationship; from slight happiness that Jenna had found someone who seemed to care deeply for her, to wariness that Mr. Anderson had sinister intentions that hadn’t been brought to light yet, to outright disgust over how easily Mr. Anderson was able to take advantage of such an emotionally damaged girl without feeling any remorse for his actions.
One of only reasons I was able to continue reading Drowning Instinct, despite how uncomfortable the student-teacher relationship made me, was because of how obviously broken both Jenna and Mr. Anderson were. It also helped that both of them were harbouring secrets from each other, secrets that I felt a desperate desire to uncover, which created such a web of lies that I couldn’t help but question what was real and what was not.
Although predictable at times, Drowning Instinct moved along at a great pace. Small pieces of Jenna and Mr. Anderson’s pasts were revealed, slowly, and with perfect timing; I was always the right mix of curious and slightly frustrated that I didn’t have the full picture. While some revelations were more shocking than others, I was never truly affected by either character’s breakdowns; my level of detachment was too great to feel much empathy for their troubled pasts. I also felt like some details were a little too glossed over, leaving the reader responsible for drawing many of their own conclusions. I felt this way, especially, with the ending. While it did catch me by surprise, I was expecting something much more scandalous and sordid, it also left a lot to be desired for those of us hoping for a definitive conclusion.
Oddly enough, because of my uncomfortableness with their relationship, I also found Drowning Instinct lacked romance. While their affair was definitely a huge factor in the outcome, it wasn’t actually the largest part of the story. Most of the details surrounding Jenna and Mr. Anderson being intimate were casual references Jenna would make in retrospect, or sentences she wouldn’t finish, leaving the reader, again, to use their imagination to fill in the blanks. Drowning Instinct focused, instead, much more on Jenna and Mr. Anderson’s histories, specifically, why they were looking for solace in the arms of someone as broken as themselves.
Troubling and thought-provoking, I would definitely recommend Drowning Instinct. While I took issue with several things, I think I would have loved Drowning Instinct had I been able to better connect with its characters: I wouldn’t have been so wary of Mr. Anderson, which would have made his deception seem personal, and I would have been as heartbroken as Jenna by the ultimate outcome.