cover image Chlorine


Jade Song. Morrow, $27.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-325760-3

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on the various ways the team members are “mutilated” (“We mutilated our beauty, though this sense of beauty was an outdated version defined by narrow wrists and bird bones”).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.)