Happy Fourth of July! *cue fireworks and sparklers* So in a totally unpatriotic way to celebrate today’s awesome holiday, I’m going to do a book review! On a book that’s in no way considered light or summery or celebratory AT ALL! But it's a book that’s still beautiful, heartbreaking, and soul-stealing to read. What a way to spend the Fourth, huh?
I started reading Drowning Instinct by Ilsa J. Bick after two librarian friends of mine recommended it. They knew of my love for Stolen by Lucy Christopher and likened this book to that. They were not wrong. Librarians are SMART, y’all. (I'm looking at you, Jenny Martin and Caron Ervin!)
Here's a summary of the book, published by Carolrhoda Lab:
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.
Y’ALL – THIS. BOOK.
What can I say? It’s a love story. A coming-of-age story. A tragedy. A cry for help. A guide to one girl’s destruction. A guide to one girl's salvation. A declaration of finding peace. It’s a story that’ll test your moral compass and then throw the answer sheet out the window. I’ll try not to be all spoilery, but just so you know...that’s hard to do with a book like this. So I'll leave it at the basics:
Jenna Lord is damaged. She comes from a truly craptastic life at home – with a mother who’s always two seconds away from checking out and a father whose belt must be too tight for how douchebaggery he’s always acting (and yeah, that’s a technical term ANDSOWHAT?). She was in a horrific fire when she was young and her only confidant, her brother, has been away at war for two years. So she’s really alone. Like, really really alone. Like, deserted-island-with-no-Wilson alone. The only thing this girl wants is for her family to be put back together again and for her scars – both external and internal – to not hurt so bad anymore. She wants to be normal. Live normal.
ENTER Mr. Anderson.
He’s her teacher, her coach, her friend, the only person in the world who actually sticks up for her when she needs something stable in her life. It’s a relationship she needs if she's going to survive. But it’ll make you, the reader, wonder if it’s a relationship that’s right. If it’s a relationship that should be.
Again, I don’t want to be all spoilery…so I’ll just leave it at this – Drowning Instinct ripped me apart, threw my pieces into the air, and left me to figure out where everything belonged with nothing but a keyfob flashlight. It made me analyze my position on taboo topics and wonder if what I had always believed to be “right” was maybe too self-righteous to actually warrant an opinion. It made me sit in bed and stare at the sheets. It made me cry, scream in silence, and re-read the last chapter to see if anything had changed since I first finished it.
If you’re a fan of contemporary YA, you should read this book. If you’re a fan of YA, you should read this book -- if not to open up discussion about things we don’t want to talk about, then for Ilsa J. Bick's beautiful writing. For passages like this:
Because you think there’s only one kind of pain? That pain is pain is pain?Uh, that would be no.There’s blood-pain. There’s knife-pain. There’s bang-your-funny-bone-pain.And then there is the pain of fire, molten and alive: the swirl of flames streaming over rotten wood and naked flesh. That pain moves when you move; it mutters between every breath; it spikes your ears; it rips. You think pain can’t be any more horrible than that.Until you discover that the well is bottomless.
(page 8 of Drowning Instinct; hardcover edition)
This book easily made its way up my favorites list. It was released this past February but I'm seriously confused why it hasn’t gotten more buzz. Maybe because it doesn’t have any element of fantasy or paranormal or sci-fi or the like. It’s a “quiet” book that roars. And I want more people to read it and talk about it.
Have you read Drowning Instinct? If so, what are your thoughts on this book? I’d love to hear from you and dish about it in a non-spoilery way, of course. ;)
Until then, if you're in the US -- Happy Fourth of July from all of us at YA Confidential. Be safe and enjoy the fireworks!