Ilsa Bick’s DROWNING INSTINCT: Killer plot, serious stuff

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Drowning Instinct by Ilsa Bick takes hold of you and doesn’t let you go until the very last page. I’m proof: I read it in two sittings. Even knowing that Liam would be up at 7:00, I stayed up till 3:00 in the morning to finish it. Here’s the description, courtesy of

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 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 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.

Where to begin?{snippet blogbreak} As an author, I stand in awe of the number of plot threads Bick weaves masterfully together here. As a reader, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. And the writing–it’s good. Really good. This book works on so many different levels. It’s hard to know how to talk about it without spoiling things. So let me tell you about a few things I loved:

The conceit: Jenna Lord is telling her story aloud into a hand-held recorder given to her by a police detective who has asked her for the truth about what happened. She’s in a hospital emergency room. There’s been an accident; she doesn’t know if she’s in trouble or if she’s the victim. And by the time she finishes the story–when we have all the pieces–we still don’t know, exactly. But in a good way.

The nuances: As you can tell from the description, there’s a teacher-student involvement in this novel. As a former high-school teacher, usually I steer way, way clear from these stories because they just piss me off. And at first, I wanted to shout at Mitch Anderson, “Never, ever, EVER have a student over to your house alone. Do NOT let her shower in your bathroom. Do NOT cook her breakfast.” But gradually we come to see him in his shortcomings and his needs, to understand his motivations, however flawed. Also Bick deals with cutting, grief, sexual abuse, and lots of other serious stuff with subtlty and wisdom. 

The voice: Jenna Lord reminds me of the girl from Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. Maybe it’s the similarity of the conceit, the simultaneous closeness to the listener (Jenna addresses the detective directly from time to time) and distance from events since they’re being narrated after the fact). But at any rate, Jenna is smart, self-aware, and astute. The language of the book is just right for her.

The suspense: There was so much of it. Seriously. I had a list of questions about a mile long and it felt urgent to find out how everything could come together. Bick parcels out some of the secrets partway through, but there are always more brewing…

This book is one you don’t want to miss. The official release date for Drowning Instinct is February 1, 2012.


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