Author: Ilsa J Bick

Book Review: Drowning Instinct by Ilsa J. Black

Posted February 16, 2015 by Stormy in Books / 1 Comment

Drowning Instinct

by Ilsa J. Black

Drowning Instinct

Original Publication Date: February 1, 2012
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab

Obtained Via: Bought
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the story morning glory

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.)

Drowning Instinct is a novel of pain, deception, desperation, and love against the odds—and the rules.




At the start of Drowning Instinct, Jenna’s had a pretty terrible life–and it doesn’t look like things are going to be looking up for her any time soon. Her parents don’t care about her, she has a whole heaping of trauma and her past, and she’s convinced that life is going on to be much the same as it has been, meaning: awful.

Drowning Instinct actually starts with a neat, and highly effective, framing device. Something’s happened, Jenna’s in the hospital, and a detective hands her a tape recorder to tell her story. Everything that the reader finds out is filtered through Jenna’s narration of what happened to get her to this point, and the picture Jenna paints isn’t pretty. She touches on her home life, her brother who’s off fighting in war, but the focus is on her romantic relationship with her teacher, Mr. Anderson.

The exploration of Jenna’s life through her narration is fascinating. She is both incredibly self-aware and yet also unreliable in her narration. She recognizes what most of her life would look like to the outside world, including the detective to whom the tape recorder belongs to, but yet is unable to face certain truths, hiding them from the reader as well. There were times I definitely felt my jaw drop a little bit, but it all felt so organic to the story I can’t even call those plot events “twists”. It’s so clear by the end how everything has been leading to the beginning where Jenna starts to tell her story, which makes sense since Jenna is getting to completely own the story and tell it anyway she sees fit.

Jenna tells a very nuanced story in Drowning Instinct. Even as I wanted to be disgusted at the relationship that developed between Jenna and Mr. Anderson, I found it so incredibly hard to do so. This truly is a story that deals in the grey between the black and white, and while the relationship often made me shudder at the same time I was just as often glad that Jenna had found someone who cared about her when no one else seemed to pay her even the slightest bit of attention, even when she was clearly hurting and needed it.

Drowning Instinct is a rather dark and heavy book, but at the same time I got so swept up in it the way I rarely do in those types of stories. It’s a book that could start a thousand conversations and even after those were done, you would still have things to talk about it. What elevated the story for me from 3 stars to more, I think, is the way Jenna’s narration played out. Framing techniques such as the one employed in Drowning Instinct can be tricky, but it worked SO well in this case because Jenna got to tell her version, just one possible version, of the story.



Drowning Instinct was not at all what I expected, and I think I’m pretty glad for that. I never thought I could appreciate a novel that centers around a student/teacher romance, but this story was so well told that I found myself completely torn–in a good way–more than once. There’s a lot to chew on here.  4/5 cupcakes.




4 Stars

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