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 Afghanistan. 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.

Wow. Just – Wow.

I’m not even sure how to write a fitting review without major spoilers, so I’m going to do my darndest to walk that fine line.

We are introduced to Jenna Lord in a unique way, as she speaks into a handheld recorder at the request of a detective. She has been left alone in her hospital room to unravel the details surrounding yet another “accident” and her suspicious relationship with a teacher at her high school. As she narrates, Jenna’s sarcastic wit shines through, yet her anguish and inner turmoil are truly palpable. I really loved this type of narration because I felt like I got to know Jenna. She’s as real a teenager as any and completely brilliant, though inherently flawed. She just wants to feel safe and whole, and most importantly, she wants someone to listen to her.

Jenna is a complete train wreck. She’s had a hell of a time growing up, and she’s only barely made it to sixteen. Slap a label on her and call her Damaged Goods. Jenna’s parents are in her life, but their participation is at a minimum. She emails her brother, a solider in Afghanistan, in the secret of her room, scared of upsetting her parents. She is not permitted to lock any of the doors in her home. Then, there’s the matter of her “situation”, which led her to be in a psych ward prior to starting over at a new high school. And that’s where Mitch Anderson, Jenna’s chemistry teacher, comes in.

Mitch is handsome, friendly, funny, passionate, and makes his students feel comfortable and accepted. He seems to really have it together. He also has a reputation for wanting to help (see: fix) “broken” students; for going above and beyond the call of teacherly duties. In Jenna, he finds his next “project”, and what starts off as a tentative friendship built on understanding, soon turns into, as the Mad Hatter would say, something much more “muchier”.

Student-teacher relationships are understandably verboten. Often, the teacher is thought of as nothing but a predator and the student simply as a victim. What happens, though, when the lines become so blurred that it’s hard to tell who really is the victim? Are these types of situations really so black-and-white?

Drowning Instinct will leave you feeling conflicted, breathless, and with dozens of unanswered questions. While this may sound frustrating, I actually love the open-endedness of the story. It leaves you to draw your own conclusions about the characters and their individual situations. In the end, it’s all about your own perception of everything you’ve been taught or encouraged to believe. I think you’ll be surprised at how difficult it is to make a definitive conclusion, and will likely think about this book long after you’ve closed the cover and put it back on its shelf.

Drowning Instinct addresses some serious subjects and is not a light read by any means. However, where it truly succeeds is by shaking things up for the reader, making them think, question, and most of all, feel. One thing’s for sure: I won’t be forgetting this book, or its characters, anytime soon.