Review by Booklist Review
Song's debut is a strikingly original coming-of-age story. Speaking from adulthood, Ren recounts the pivotal year when she exchanged her life as a good Chinese daughter, working hard to get into a top college and competing as an elite swimmer, for a life without terrestrial concerns, as a mermaid. No longer human, Ren intimately shares her memories with direct, confessional narration, effortlessly drawing readers in from the first lines. As Ren struggles with the pressures of her sport, the obsession of her coach, her feelings for her best friend, Cathy, and her experiences as an immigrant, the rawness and pain are familiar, but it is Ren's insistence on becoming a mermaid that takes this tale to the breaking point, leaving a lasting mark. Full of contradictions, magnificently balancing and remarkably sustaining wonder with dread and magical realism with harsh reality, with a heartbreakingly beautiful and intensely uneasy tone, this is a story that will hold readers in its thrall. Ripe for discussion, Chlorine is a great choice for fans of weird, immersive, female-driven body horror by authors like Julia Armfield, Cassandra Khaw, and Carmen Maria Machado.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
In Song's disturbing and visionary debut, a child pushed too hard to succeed becomes a monster of her own making. Ren Yu, a Chinese American teen, is obsessed with water and mermaids, specifically the Native American Passamaquoddy mermaids who killed their would-be colonizers. After she lands a spot on her school's swim team, she imagines the chlorinated water is transforming her body into that of a mermaid. Her overbearing coach pushes Ren's boundaries with inappropriate touching, and his exacting standards lead Ren and her teammates to develop unhealthy eating habits and body dysphoria. Ren's father, meanwhile, moves back to China, and both of her parents stress the importance of Ren landing admission to an Ivy League school. To cope with the pressure, Ren turns to sex and drugs, and by the end, an early allusion about her mermaid's tail is revealed in all its Cronenberg-esque glory. The body horror is striking, as is Song's prose, in which she riffs on the various ways the team members are "mutilated" ("We mutilated our beauty, though this sense of beauty was an outdated version defined by narrow wrists and bird bones"). It's a singular coming-of-age. Agent: DongWon Song, Howard Morhaim Literary. (Mar.)
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
Part body horror, part science fiction, part queer teenage romance, Song's debut novel dives into the deep end of bodily and psychological metamorphosis--but it's not for the faint of heart. When Ren Yu was 4 years old, her mother gave her a book of mermaid folklore, and she was immediately obsessed. Years later, when she tries out for the high school swim team, she knows instantly that the water is where she belongs, and she begins a quest to seek the "same sense of isolated grandeur" she first experienced plunging into the pool. Driven by the pressure of her demanding and sometimes creepy coach, Jim, as well as her own compulsion to win whatever the cost, Ren finds herself pushing further and further toward her physical and psychological limits. Meanwhile, she must also navigate the complications of teenage sex and romance and the complexities of her Chinese American identity. After a disappointing result at a swim meet, Ren is determined to take control of her destiny, making a shocking choice that will alter her life irrevocably. Alternating between a third-person narrative and letters written to Ren from her best friend (and perhaps more than friend) Cathy, a "blue-eyed white girl," Song's form- and genre-blending book opens a brilliant portal into the sometimes-agonizing processes of coming-of-age and training as an elite athlete. Song is at her best when writing about the elaborate and sometimes agonizing experience of coming into one's own power; one scene is so chillingly and effectively rendered it is difficult not to judge the rest of the novel by that standard. In comparison, the rest of the book, especially those parts that deal with teen drama, sometimes feel lackluster in comparison. A striking portrayal of teenage transformation with a David Lynchian twist (plus mermaids!) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.