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Beaverton Hummer

“Chlorine” book review

Trying to make your book something it’s not
Cassandra Kain
“Chlorine” has a unique concept, but fails to live up to expectations.


“Chlorine”, Jade Song’s debut coming-of-age horror novel, steps away from the traditionality of mermaids.

For her entire life, Ren Yu has been obsessed with mermaids, but not the light-hearted, PG-rated mermaids you’d expect. Ren Yu has based her passion on the twisted tales of the sea she grew up reading and her performance as a varsity swimmer. Nothing brings her peace except the smell of chlorine filling her nose and enveloping her skin in water. Ren is determined to become a mermaid, literally and figuratively.

I was interested to read this because the book sounded fresh — a break from the cliché plots modern books keep repeating. Plus, I’ve heard many book reviewers rave that “Chlorine” brought something new to contemporary fiction. How could I resist reading “Chlorine”?

Unfortunately, “Chlorine” did not meet my expectations. While I appreciate that this novel did explore taboo topics like inappropriate relationships between coaches and athletes, eating disorders, difficult mother-daughter relationships, racism, etc. The execution ruined it. 

Song ruined scenes with her word choice. For example, in a scene where Ren is trying to justify her actions, she says, “How selfish I was. But I was meant to be selfish—my self, meeting the fish.” The author tries to make Ren sound different, misunderstood, and edgy when in reality she is just stuck up. Is Ren trying to make herself sound like Holden from “Catcher In The Rye”? The writing felt one-dimensional and the words couldn’t flow and connect. 

Every now and then, the novel would switch to Cathy, Ren’s friend who had a crush on her. Her POV was presented in a letter format of Cathy addressing Ren. The letters would often repeat the same message: Cathy misses Ren, she wishes things could’ve been different, blah, blah, blah. I dreaded these chapters and skimmed them over. They felt so long and dragged out like the author was trying to reach a certain word count.

Speaking of Cathy, she was one of the most mistreated characters in the book. Despite Ren calling Cathy her “closest friend”, Ren would lead her on and then, all of a sudden, start ignoring her. At some point in the book, Ren ditches Cathy to hook up with some guy from her swim team (because of course, everyone has a crush on Ren). The next day, she asked Cathy to come with her to CVS and buy her a pregnancy test. Talk about whiplash, right? Ren and Cathy’s relationship was limited to Cathy secretly longing for Ren and Ren only acknowledging Cathy when she wanted attention. There was no real romance nor friendship between the two. 

The body horror was one of the few applaudable aspects of “Chlorine”. Song described the gore in vivid imagery, leaving little to the imagination. I found myself cringing away and unable to read some scenes because of how graphic they were, but that may be because I don’t enjoy body horror. 

I wish I could have enjoyed this book more because the premise was so promising — but the concept was spoiled. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters, and only on rare occasions did I feel any sympathy for Ren. Ren was not the mystifying character Song made her out to be in the synopsis; Ren was whiny and annoying. “Chlorine” by Jade Song was just another failed attempt at trying to make your book seem like something it’s not: nuanced. 

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About the Contributor
Cassandra Kain
Cassandra Kain, Staff Writer
Cassandra is a junior who currently writes reviews for The Hummer.

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