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Drowning Instinct


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About the Author

Ilsa J. Bick is a child psychiatrist, as well as a film scholar, surgeon wannabe, former Air Force major, and an award-winning, best-selling author of short stories, e-books, and novels. She has written extensively in the Star Trek, Battletech, Mechwarrior: Dark Age, and Shadowrun universes. Her original stories have been featured in numerous anthologies, magazines and online venues. Ilsa's YA paranormal, Draw the Dark, was also a semifinalist for the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (as Stalag Winter). Ilsa currently lives with her family and other furry creatures in rural Wisconsin and across the street from the local Hebrew cemetery. One thing she loves about the neighbors: They're very quiet and come around for sugar only once in a blue moon.


At 16, Jenna Lord has suffered enough misfortune to last a lifetime. Badly burned in the fire that destroys her grandfather's house, she subsequently suffers a breakdown and is briefly institutionalized. Her homelife isn't much better: she calls her plastic-surgeon father 'Psycho Dad, ' her mother abuses alcohol, and her beloved older brother and only confidant is in Iraq. To make things even worse, she cuts herself. Jenna is figuratively drowning in disorder until she enrolls in a new school and meets her chemistry teacher, a caring man who strives to help her. Jenna's gratitude turns quickly to love and things get...complicated. Bick, a child psychiatrist, writes about dysfunction with a professional's insight, and she goes to great pains to create believable characters--too much so, making the novel excessively long. Nevertheless, she manages to avoid the didactic and dramatizes dysfunction and disorder in ways that will attract readers and offer opportunities for classroom discussion. --Booklist

-- "Journal"

Jenna, 16, is vulnerable, abused, and broken. Her dad is a controlling workaholic, her mom is a drunk, and her brother, who had been her salvation, left to serve in Iraq. Following a stint in a psychiatric facility, she enrolls in a new school where she forms a special attachment with charismatic teacher and coach Mitch Anderson, who has a special way of connecting to students with problems. The novel begins in the aftermath of a tragic event. To explain it, Jenna speaks into a police detective's recorder and relates the story of her life, which she says 'begins with Mr. Anderson.' Her tale is akin to viewing a slow-motion train wreck. Readers are horrified, and know immediately that there's no sunny outcome, but at the same time they won't be able to tear themselves away. Jenna's voice is convincing; she's intelligent and wryly flippant as she records her story of sexual abuse. Her tone is realistic; at times it is filled with raw emotion and then juxtaposed with a dispassionate retelling of events as though no one could be expected to maintain that level of emotion. The novel begins slowly but quickly builds steam--and controversy--with unexpected turns and revelations. Neither the victims nor the predators are stereotypical and that ambiguity, while unsettling, is sure to spark discussion. --School Library Journal

-- "Journal"

Sixteen-year-old Jenna Lord has just enrolled in a new school. Her father is a bully and a womanizer; her mother drowns her feelings with alcohol; her step-grandfather sexually abused her as a child. Jenna is a cutter and recently discharged from a mental institution. Her chemistry teacher befriends her, Jenna is attracted to him, and they enter into a sexual relationship; she learns he has a history with 'troubled' female students. Anderson saves Jenna from drowning, but knowingly sacrifices himself. A testament to the author's writing skill is the unanswered question: Was Anderson genuinely in love with Jenna or was he a sexual predator? The multiple issues and dysfunctions may be difficult for some readers to follow. The adult characters are stereotypical, but somehow Jenna remains believable. Language and sexual content make this suitable for mature readers, especially those who favor psychological novels. --Library Media Connection

-- "Journal"

When the policeman asks Jenna how she fell through the ice and nearly drowned in the lake near her teacher's house, she won't tell him. When he leaves her a recorder, though, she starts talking, describing her memories of nearly dying in a fire at her grandfather's house when she was young, her parents' on-again off-again romantic closeness, her father's brutally controlling behavior, her difficulty fitting in at her new school, her longing for her absent brother, and finally her relationship with her teacher, Mr. Anderson. The tale that emerges has numerous heroes and villains, but they are often contained within the same person, and the moral messiness disallows easy distinctions. At the center of it all is Jenna herself, whose keen need for love is met only by people who betray, neglect, and lie to her, even when they, too, are simply seeking genuine affection. Jenna's narration spins out multiple mysteries and consistently dares her imaginary listener to condemn her romantic relationship with her teacher, who matches her need for need. In fact, her defiant tone and refusal to be a victim even though she has been victimized is what ultimately keeps her afloat, making this a compelling study of brokenness that persists across generations and of salvation by unconventional means. --The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

-- "Journal"

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