Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this lovely Wednesday? It’s (finally) the last Wednesday of March, so you know what that means. Book review time! This month, I decided to request something a little different. More traditional fiction with horror and magical realism elements sprinkled in. At least that’s what the description suggests. Sounded interesting, so I gave it a shot. Chlorine by Jade Song was released yesterday (the 28th) from William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins). As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for granting me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it.
Chlorine follows Ren Yu as she navigates high school, cultural differences, falling for a girl, and growing up in general. Combine all of that with an obsessive love of mermaids and being the top female swimmer on the swim team, and things get weird. She starts out looking for her place in the world and when she finally finds it, she’ll stop at nothing to achieve her goal. No matter the pain she causes herself or others.
I actually want to start with the characters this time. None of them are remotely likeable, which is interesting. Ren, who is extremely unhappy and manipulative, is telling us her story, so we’re seeing everyone through her eyes. The only character who comes close to being redeemable is Cathy, but even she is portrayed as weak and untrustworthy unless she’s doing exactly what Ren wants. Coach is either one step away from being a child molester or he’s a father figure depending on her mood. Her mother is a saint unless she’s interfering in Ren’s life. And Ren herself is above all the human drama despite being the cause of most of it. I actually enjoyed the self-centered nature of the character development. It felt honest, especially as Ren sank further away from reality.
The plot was cluttered. A lot happens in this short book, so there isn’t much room for most of it to be explored. There’s a sexual assault and it ends up being nothing more than a passing mention in order to explain the summer Ren blew off swimming. As if burnout isn’t excuse enough to take a break and waver from the perfect child routine. There were a few places where major incidents were glanced over in favor of smaller things. Yes, it’s probably just how Ren prioritizes things, but if you’re going to cover heavy topics, the whole “oh, that’s just the character’s way” shtick feels like a cheap trick for not dealing with things.
As far as the genres go, this book isn’t really what it’s marketed as. The description gives off horror mixed with magical realism vibes. The horror is there in the sense that body horror is a thing and a slow descent into mental illness can be horrific. But the magical realism doesn’t come into play until the last chapter and then it’s too little too late. This book is straight up fiction about mental illness and how Ren’s delusions led to a romanticized ending. I’m okay with that. I still would have read it if the description had been more accurate and I probably would’ve enjoyed it a lot more if I weren’t looking for the genre elements that barely existed. It feels like the marketers are trying to force the book to be something it isn’t instead of letting it be what it is.
The writing was raw and open, but nothing special. There were moments where it was amazing, but mostly it was mediocre and occasionally could have used some trimming. I didn’t feel compelled to keep reading when I had reached my quota for the day, but I didn’t dread picking it back up the next day either.
Ultimately, I liked Chlorine for what it was, but not for what they claimed it to be. I don’t regret reading it. I don’t want my time back. But I don’t want other people going into it with the hope that it’s something magical when it isn’t.
Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. Despite my issues with it, I do feel like it’s a worthwhile read and a good look into the selfish side of growing up and how seemingly innocent obsessions can spiral out of control. Just be aware that it’s probably not what you’re expecting.
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So is that a ……………….
DRAMA LLAMA SHAMA LAMA DING DONG??????????????????
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