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As soon as I read the summary for this book, I knew that it was something I just had to read. The summary that I read was not the Goodreads one above, but the one from Quercus itself, which is no way near as gripping as the one above which is making me want to read this book all over again!
Drowning Instinct is written retrospectively as Jenna talks into a recorder about the events that led up to her being interviewed by a police officer, Bob, in the present day. The story begins when Jenna is released from a psychiatric unit where she had been staying for a few months because she used to cut herself. Although the urge is still there, she can resist the temptation and she is enrolled into a good school. Jenna is still the social recluse she always was though and doesn't make any friends, that is, unless if you count her teacher, Mr Anderson, who seems to have a vested interest in her. I can't really say more without revealing any spoilers because there are quite a lot of complicated things going on in lots of different characters' lives simultaneously.
I didn't particularly like the character Jenna. Sure, I sympathized with her, but I found it hard to relate to her and she's a rather introverted character, even though it's written from the first person, so I didn't really connect with her, but I certainly found her story intriguing. I do like her rather frank way of talking because for a person as psychologically complex as Jenna, clarity is essential. It also made her character seem all the more real and I felt like these events could have actually happened. All the characters have their flaws and I guess that's why the story is so mucked up which is why I didn't particularly connect with any of them, apart from perhaps Danielle, Jenna's enemy, towards the end of the novel. I felt like an outsider watching events unfold or Jenna's shrink listening to her get everything off her chest, but not really involved. This wasn't really a bad thing because I think to have involved the reader would have just been too much for my brain to handle because this book deals with some pretty heavy stuff.
Every now and again, Jenna mentions Bob, or 'Bobby-O', to remind you that she in fact talking to someone about past events. Sometimes I felt that this was a little forced, but it was effective never-the-less, otherwise I probably would've forgotten the purpose of the story. This book does get off to a bit of a slow start, it took me longer than usual to get through a book of this size and I think that's because the content was just to heavy to read in massive chunks. That said, when I got to the last 100 pages or so, it suddenly got really interesting with lots of twists and turns that I never would've expected and the ending is brilliant.
At the end of the book there's an interview with Ilsa J Bick which is fascinating as you find out why she wrote a story such as this and there's some background to her thoughts behind character's actions and such. What is most fascinating about this book is that it doesn't preach what it thinks is wrong or right, it merely presents an interesting situation in which there are some good things as well as bad things. I liked that this story was quite balanced and to see positives drawn out of some of the traumatic situations that arise in this book is so interesting. I usually don't like to read books of this nature because they make me feel rather depressed and I read to enjoy myself, but this year I seem to have read rather a lot of them, all of which have been phenomenal, and Drowning Insticts was no different.
All in all, Drowning Insticts is a brilliant book that really gets you thinking about what's right and what's wrong and that sometimes the line between the two gets extremely blurry. This is a thought-provoking read that would be of interest to all ages, though perhaps not suitable for younger teens as some there are 'mature' themes (by that I don't mean sex - though, there was a bit of that too).
Jenna is 16 years old, and fresh out of a psychiatric hospital when her parents enrol her at a new high school in the wilds of Wisconsin. Being the new kid at school adds to an already iffy situation (parents who ignore her angst in favour of their own; a brother who enlisted to get away from them) and she's not really looking forward to term starting. But then she meets someone, someone special who is kind to her, pays attention to her, looks out for her. Someone she can trust. Mr Anderson is a Chemistry teacher and athletics coach, but he's more than that to Jenna. Against the rules, and against the odds, he becomes her ally, and so much more.
This is a brilliant, inventive, gripping young adult book that will delight teens while perhaps terrifying their parents. Every page simmers with suspense, and the knowledge that something big is coming, something bad bubbling under the surface, but we're at Jenna's mercy as she is the one telling the story, her train of thought maddeningly wandering away from the topic again and again. This is the story of the relationship between Jenna and Mr Anderson, told exclusively from her point of view. She's not telling it to a friend though, or even writing it in her diary: she's in hospital, speaking into a detective's tape recorder. And boy, does she have a lot to say.
There are lots of books about teacher-student relationships, but this one is different. Because it's all from Jenna's point of view, the perspective is completely different. This is not about what's right or wrong, it's about a troubled girl who just wants to be happy. And if Mr Anderson makes her happy, is that such a bad thing?
This book isn't as uncomfortable to read as you might expect. Jenna may have had a messy life up until now, but she is still very much in charge and knows what she is doing. The relationship, as she narrates it, seems neither exploitive nor disturbing. It's not a story where everyone but the main character sees all the signs, the warning flags, the 'turn back NOW' moments. It's a story where you actually root for the budding relationship, will it to all work out. It's also not a graphic book - you know what the couple are up to, but you don't get the, erm, ins and outs, or, erm again, blow by blow account. This keeps it more appropriate for its target audience, while also adding to the delicious frustration for older readers who want more than dropped hints.
Jenna's story captivated me. I felt the ending was more extreme than I was expecting, and the last few chapters really packed in the action, but I was definitely left wanting more, and would love to see a Jenna, or indeed Mr Anderson, follow up.
This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk
Drowing Instinct is out now in paperback and on Kindle