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There are times when I’ve been to a gallery or art museum and I’ll stare at a piece of artwork that clears my head of all assumption. I’m just standing there, slack-jawed, leaning ever-so-slightly in to the point where I stumble just a little. I’m not just looking. I’m gawking.

Whether it’s an overwhelming feeling of sadness, joy, or anxiety, it’s still overwhelming. It’s that feeling that hits you before you start to ask questions about meaning and motive. In the case of Ilsa J. Bick’s Drowning Instinct, I was immediately uncomfortable.


But immediate discomfort doesn’t automatically label this as a bad cover. (Cover love, remember?) Drowning Instinct’s face does come off a bit like a poster for a David Fincher thriller, but it doesn’t make it any less intriguing. When Kelly sent this cover art my way, I needed to know what Bick’s novel was about. And I wasn’t really surprised to find that the subject matter made me even more uncomfortable.

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.

Doesn’t exactly seem like a sweet and fun read, does it? A cool (as in color temperature) and limited color palette, coupled with a bold uppercase title sucks the warmth out of the room and makes you feel like you can’t breathe. And that photo choice? That’s just intense, plain and simple. I can certainly appreciate cover art when it’s being completely transparent, and in a sea (heh) of other Water Girls on YA cover art, Drowning Instinct floats effortlessly to the surface.

Bryan Williams