Drowning Instinct

Word to the wise: if you want to avoid going to the loony bin, put all sharp objects out of reach. Also stay out of the way of your psychopath father and drunken mother. Ilsa J Bick’s Drowning Instinct is chock full of all of this and more. 

Holy cow is it.

Jenna Lord is in a lot of pain, both physically and mentally:

They think they’re doing you this big favor keeping you going because you’ve got your whole life ahead.  Because you think there’s only one kind of pain?  That pain is pain is pain?

Uh, that would be a no.

When the novel opens, Jenna has just finished a stint in a mental facility for help with self-harm and spends her days being home-schooled. Months later she knows she’s not healed from the compulsion to harm. She knows that it might always be there, lurking and prodding her to act. She has only herself to count on since her brother enlisted in the service and was sent to Afghanistan. He was her protector from a raging father and an alcoholic mother, a woman who has dark tendencies no one would suspect. 

Jenna’s brother Matthew saved her from a house fire that burned much of her back and required skin grafts from her thighs. This bonded them more than a regular sibling relationship. She’s determined to stay close to him and has to email him on the sly, creating an email account her parents can’t find out about. They disowned Matthew when he enlisted and if they find out Jenna is still talking to him, well, there goes the computer and any further “us against them” bonding between siblings.

Jenna gets a chance to start all over again at a new school where there are the usual stuck up girls applying three coats of lip-gloss in the bathroom while trashing every dweeb, geek, and yes, the troubled new kid. The worst is Danielle, the über stuck up pretty girl who especially seems to have it out for Jenna.   

Jenna tends to avoid contact with anyone and seeks solace in the library. But before she can go any further into herself she meets Mr. Anderson, her chemistry teacher and track coach. He takes an interest in her. Now, wait. I know what that sounds like: “takes an interest in her”. Creepy and very Mary K. Letourneau

But he encourages her to join the cross-country team, makes her his assistant in his lab and eventually (to Jenna’s horror) sees how her home life is unfolding like a Hefty bag with an amputated arm inside. He invites her into his life and home where Jenna sees picture after picture of a woman in various stages of pregnancy. She’s Mr. Anderson’s never seen wife. When questioned, he says that they are estranged and she’s in Wisconsin taking care of her sick father.

Mr. Anderson makes her forget about hurting herself. He helps her to see she’s more than damaged goods.

But he has his own secrets. Where is his wife? Where is his child? Why did Danielle say to Jenna that Mr. Anderson liked “the broken ones”? Did something happen between him and Danielle? Does he see Jenna simply as someone beyond repair that he pities?

Just when you think you’ve figured out what’s going on, Ilsa J. Bick’s Drowning Instinct throws in a whopping slap of events that are both unnerving and enthralling.

I’m still unnerved.


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