When I first read Mahogany L. Browne’s stunning poem, Black Girl Magic, I was in awe of her talent. I knew that anything she wrote would be a gift, and I eagerly awaited for new work from her. Browne’s debut YA novel-in-verse, Chlorine Sky, is an incredible follow up—a heartbreaking, realistic story of coming of age, losing friends, first love, and finding your voice.
We first meet Sky through her confusion and heartache at her best friend’s treatment of her—once inseparable, Lay Li now refuses to acknowledge her. Sky is used to being Lay Li’s shadow but without her friend, Sky feels listless. She begins to doubt her place in the world. At home, her sister resents her and mistreats her and her older cousin Inga—more of a sister than her actual one—isn’t around as often. Her only escape is the basketball court, where she has to fight for her place as the teenage boys she plays with demean and antagonize her. She can only focus on the game, even though it’s hard to play when so much in her life is falling apart. It isn’t until she catches the eye of a boy, Clifton, that she starts to let Lay Li go. But even then, she has long to go before she can fully learn to accept herself and grow, a process that was both hard and inspiring to read.
Each poem is a moment in this teenage girl’s life, starting out unsure and grieving for the loss of a friend and blossoming into a powerful, self-aware young woman. Her voice never wavers. Even though this book is slim, it is empowering, meant to be read out loud and shared.
I’ve felt the loss of a close friend, the betrayal and self-doubt that made me think I was the one responsible for the break. I felt unsure of myself under the gaze and scrutiny of others, just like Sky. Her journey was so realistic because I felt it. Browne’s verse is immediate and unflinching. It’s hard to not grieve for Lay Li, to feel upset at Essa, and to find joy at Clifton’s initial attention. The poems where Sky is playing basketball are my favorite because it’s through her passion for the sport that she begins to gain self-confidence.
Though this was a quick read, like many verse novels, Chlorine Sky will stay with me for a long time. Mahogany’s writing and unforgettable characters are not to be missed.
Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Browne was released on Jan. 12, 2021.