Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Review: The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Tags: young adult, contemporary, PTSD, romance

Former piano prodigy Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone learning about her past and to make the boy who took everything from her—her identity, her spirit, her will to live—pay.

Josh Bennett’s story is no secret: every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. Now all he wants is be left alone and people allow it because when your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.

Everyone except Nastya, the mysterious new girl at school who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But the more he gets to know her, the more of an enigma she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.

The Sea of Tranquility is a rich, intense, and brilliantly imagined story about a lonely boy, an emotionally fragile girl, and the miracle of second chances. [summary from Goodreads]

This is one of those unusual circumstances where I definitely remember loving the book as I was reading it--going so far as to plan to myself that I would give it 5 stars--but, upon reflection months later, I can't seem to recall a single element of this story that had transfixed me so. Peculiar, isn't it? I didn't even remember the main characters' names, their conflict, or the plot. This put me in a bit of a difficult position. How could I possibly rate a book highly if it left so little of an impression on me? For my other 5-star books, I can quote quotes and allude to characters' quirks even outside of my reading life. Where, then, should THE SEA OF TRANQUILITY fall?

Despite not even remembering the characters' names, I think that what got to me most while reading this book was how thoroughly Millay's prose swept me up into Nastya and and Josh's love story. Millay's writing perfectly reflects the emotional responses she wishes to wring from readers: the frustratingly languid slow burn of two messed-up people learning to open themselves up to each other. In that way, then, THE SEA OF TRANQUILITY's prose is a more accurate depiction of real-life love than most love stories we read. There is a degree of, shall we say, "life editing" that goes on when writing a story. (No one wants to read about all the meals your character ate or the number of times he/she went to the bathroom, after all.) While this is a perfectly legitimate and understandable narrative practice, it makes it all too easy for us readers to (consciously) forget that storytelling is life edited down to its enticing and relevant bits.

I mean, I get it. I read stories too because I love fiction and want to escape reality. But every once in a while I love the book that makes me aware of the differences between narrating fiction and narrating life, the book that challenges pacing conventions while still triggering a positive emotional response from me. Intriguingly enough, it is this awareness that makes that particular story all the more poignant to me. This year, THE SEA OF TRANQUILITY was that book. And while I don't anticipate rereading it--some stories are like that, you know: you don't feel the necessity of reading them again--I certainly don't regret the (considerable amount of) time I spent with Nastya and Josh.

(This review would've been drastically different had I written it the day after I finished the book. Or am I trying to justify the horrendous fact that I wrote a review six months late?? Hehe.)

Cover discussion: My feelings toward this cover are mixed. It definitely lures you in with the guarantee of romance. On the other hand, beyond the romance aspect, I'm not sure it has any connection to this book in particular--like, this cover could be one for any of the many romances published every year.

Atria / Nov. 13, 2012 / Paperback (reprint) / 450pp. / $15.00

e-galley provided by the publisher and NetGalley.


  1. The opposite usually happens to me. I give a book a pretty low rating, not that excited about it, but 6 months later, I can remember every detail, and I realize it has left an impression on me. I'm not sure why this happens....peculiar....

    Great review!

  2. I read this one back in December and reviewed shortly afterwards, so as you might imagine, I was really positive about it! ;) I still think I'll feel the same in a month or two, but who knows!

  3. I haven't read this one, but now I'm interested. I think it's healthy to have some realism in my reading rather than always fiction. Plus, the characters sound interesting. Thanks for the review!

    -P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex

  4. I LOVE this review, Steph. I think you touched on an aspect of this book that I haven't seen mentioned before. I actually complete agree! While I would never re-read this book, something definitely kept me turning the pages when I first did.

  5. I've seen this book around twitter and good reads, but I really enjoyed your review. Gave me more of an inside's look, without giving too much away. Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts... even if you were 6 months late ;)haha

    Diana @ The Lovely Getaway

  6. I've been doing that more, it seems, loving a book but then, when I go to review it, either not liking it as much or forgetting details of the story that so intrigued me. Not sure what that says about my brain except that it's probably overloaded.

  7. I know how weird it can be to write a review about a book you read months ago. It's a much more removed experience. Regardless, I think you did a good job with this one. Maybe I haven't remembered Tranquility reviews too well, but I don't recall anyone explicitly saying that it deals with PTSD. That makes me a lot more interested to read it. I'll have to pick this one up! Thanks for powering through the review for us.

  8. I have been writing more reviews later - have been trying to keep up recently, but have also been going back - and sometimes loving a book just means loving a book without remembering a lot. I think books that often feature those day-to-day scenarios and write them well don't necessarily need to be remembered for plot points.

    I read someone's comment about NA and its abundance of gif reviews being connected to the stories, at their best, because of the emotional response being key rather than the specific plot points. Which I can understand. I think the best NA can still fall into that place. You may not remember all the details, but the emotional wave of the story is still present and appreciated.


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