I live in a world without magic or miracles. A place where there are no clairvoyants or shapeshifters, no angels or superhuman boys to save you. A place where people die and music disintegrates and things suck. I am pressed so hard against the earth by the weight of reality that some days I wonder how I am still able to lift my feet to walk.
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.
I saw this on NetGalley a few weeks ago. The cover caught my attention, but the synopsis and mad GoodReads love hooked me. Ignoring yet again my vow to clear books off of my Nook before adding more to it, I hit that “request” button without even the smallest twinge of regret. (Also, NetGalley and Atria books, I freaking love you for giving me the book in exchange for this review.)
I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting going into this book, but whatever my expectations were, they have been exceeded. This is one of those rare books, in fact, where the rating doesn’t fully reflect my love for the story. In terms of my enjoyment, this deserves the full five stars. But on the critical side of things, it’s a four. But I’ll get into all they “why”s of that in a minute.
Nastya is an enormously flawed character. She lives trapped inside of her own head, living with memories of the tragedy that stole her very identity from her. The story starts with a gigantic question mark hovering over it, pressing down on it. The mystery slowly gets revealed, but by the time that happens, you’re too invested in the characters to even need the explanation. (Okay, not really. I was still dying to know Nastya’s secrets.)
In terms of originality, this book isn’t the best. Who hasn’t read the angst-filled contemporary romance with both parties affected by tragedy worthy of any prime-time Lifetime movie plot? No, where The Sea Of Tranquility shines is with its characters. I am in awe at Katja Millay’s ability to create such distinct, fundamentally flawed, broken characters as Nastya Kashnikov and Josh Bennet. Their personalities transcend the pages and make them real in readers’ hearts, especially Nastya. Nastya, whose life was stolen from her and poorly patched back together, leaving a scarred mess of a person where a bright piano prodigy was before. Her personality is a mix of angst and sarcasm, loss and hopelessness, and seeing her gradual change throughout the novel, with the help of the equally tragic Josh, was so very satisfying.
Maybe it’s the sadist in me, but there is little I love more than heartbreaking characters. And that’s why in my mind, I wouldn’t hesitate to give The Sea Of Tranquility the full five stars. It delivers in that regard perfectly.
But there were a few things that I’m forced to acknowledge weren’t so fantastic about the book. Without getting spoilery, this will be nearly impossible to articulate, but of course I’m going to try.
Nastya makes a few choices throughout this novel regarding who to trust in a certain way. It’s a big part of the story, and a huge area of character development, but it wasn’t explained enough. The novel is told in alternating POVs, between Nastya and Josh, and both cases of this were shown through Josh’s eyes, then glossed over when we got back to Nastya. I really wanted to know why she chose to open up like she did, to hear her reasons for it, but we never got more than a cursory explanation.
There were also a few scene jumps that were rather jarring. We’d go from one emotional scene that had very little resolution, to a completely different day and setting with next to no segue. It didn’t take long to switch gears with the story, but it did get annoying every once in a while. (I wish I could give examples, but I really can’t without spoilers. But you’ll know what I mean when you read this book.)
There was maybe a little too much melodrama throughout the novel, especially toward the end. Scenes were drawn out, our protagonists received gut punch after gut punch, and it just seemed a bit excessive. But this led into one of the most satisfying endings I have read in recent years, so it is so worth every second of melodrama to reach it.
I found out while reading that this was a self-published novel that got picked up by Simon Schuster/Atria books, and my reaction to learning that this was self-published was a mixture of amazement and vicarious pride. Books like this prove that some indie writers are just as good as the bestsellers, often better. Katja Millay is an author to watch, an underdog who clearly has the talent to take the reading world by storm. If you’re a fan of the contemporary genre, do yourself a favor and read The Sea Of Tranquility. Of all the books I’ve been lucky enough to receive from NetGalley, this is the one I’d unhesitatingly buy a physical copy of to proudly display on my shelves. I loved this book.
The Sea Of Tranquility - 4 out of 5 stars