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Jade Song, in ‘Chlorine,’ hopes her tale of a queer mermaid’s quest gives comfort to those who feel alone

David Wilson for the Boston

A bloody Megan Fox hovering over a pool. A woman’s head on a serpentine body.

These images are part of an Instagram mood board that author Jade Song began curating in January 2022 with the goal of capturing “the moody, dark feel” of their debut novel, “Chlorine.”

“I consider myself an artist, and I consider writing as part of my artistic practice,” they said. Song, who uses both she and they pronouns, and who has worked in many different sectors as an art director, said she wanted a visual space to reflect on while writing her novel.


“Chlorine” follows a high school swimmer named Ren in her quest to become a mermaid. Driven and unwavering, Ren refuses to let anything come between her and the freedom water provides; she’s not beyond spilling blood. At the same time, “Chlorine” is also a story of Ren’s awakening to her queerness and what that means for her.

Song herself used to be a competitive swimmer, and said she relates to the intense training and dieting described in “Chlorine.” Swimming “consumes you,” she notes, adding that it lends itself to an “obsessive trope” because swimmers’ lives often revolve around the sport.

They classify the book as body horror — a genre where people’s bodies are disfigured, mutilated, or distorted — and drew inspiration from “Ginger Snaps,” a film about two sisters obsessed with death.

In her research, Song also sifted through “The Penguin Book of Mermaids,” a treasury of mermaid stories across cultures that engages in conversations about gender, spirituality, ecology, and sexuality. She weaves “aquatic, watery, poetic references” like those of poets Natalie Diaz and Jackie Wang into their novel, noting that they consider “Chlorine” not just a single work but a dialogue between many different works.


Song said they hope readers feel less alone when they read “Chlorine.”

“For someone who might dream of being a mermaid, or dream of being a myth, or a monster, [’Chlorine’] allows for a lot of weird, queer transcendence,” Song said. “I think that’s part of what makes being alive so much fun. You get to choose who you want to be and strive toward it. So I hope that anybody who dreams of being a mermaid, or any other kind of monster, can transcend into the way that they dream.”

Jade Song will discuss their debut novel, “Chlorine,” virtually with a special guest at Brookline Booksmith on Saturday, April 22, at noon.

Maddie Browning can be reached at