Review: The Sea of Tranquility

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Sea of TranquilityThe Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
Published by Atria on November 13, 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 448
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley

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.

First Sentence: “I hate my left hand.”

The Sea of Tranquility is a book I have strong feelings about, both good and bad. In some ways, I positively loved it, and, in others, I’m rolling my eyes so hard it feels like they’re about to fall out of my head. I’m going to do my best to explain what worked for me and what didn’t, and I’m planning to employ more quotes than usual, so get ready.

Millay does a great job setting up the mystery of Emilia/Nastya’s past (and I’m just going to call her Nastya from now on, since that’s what she goes by for the bulk of the book). From the very beginning, Millay hooked me into the story, and I had no choice but to finish the book. The first paragraph is incredibly dramatic, lighting a fire to discover who did this to her and whether she will succeed in killing him, the light of vengeance flashing in her eyes. Millay also does a great job of sustaining the forward motion through the book. I read it slowly, because it was my Nook book, for whenever I had downtime but no print books with me, but I was always excited to get to read a little bit more and to watch the story unravel.

I also think that, largely, Millay’s writing is quite skilled. I highlighted several quotes throughout that spoke to me in their beauty or their wisdom. Though I make a habit of this, there aren’t too many authors who get me to make note of that number of sentences. I applaud her for this, and on the wit and intelligence of the writing alone, I know I’ll be reading whatever Millay’s next book is.

However, much as I loved the writing on a basic level, I do feel like it has a couple of major weaknesses. First of all, Nastya and Josh’s perspectives read exactly the same to me. Their narrations are the exact same amount of bitter and the same flavor too. They use the same sorts of derogatory terms to think of others and have a similar cadence to their thoughts, as well as matching desires to avoid emotional attachments and to respond sarcastically to things. Were it not for the helpful chapter headings, I would have been reliant on the narrator seeing the other character to figure out whose mind I was in. Though I did largely like the narrative voice, they were much too similar.

The second drawback to the writing, and the main reason I was rolling my eyes, is how damn angsty it is. Josh and Nastya could win an Olympics of angst. It’s ridiculous. Honestly, I didn’t have a good handle on what angst was before this book, and even asked Renae of Respiring Thoughts about it. NOW I get it, because they WOULD. NOT. STOP. Don’t believe me?

“Maybe what he says should floor me, but it doesn’t even make me blink. Maybe I should jump in immediately and tell him that he shouldn’t think that way. That, of course, God doesn’t hate him. That it’s a ridiculous thing to believe. Except, it’s not. Nothing about it is ridiculous. When you watch every person you love systematically removed from your life until at seventeen years old there is no one left, how can you think anything else? It makes such perfect sense that the only thing that surprises me is that I didn’t think of it myself.” (195-6)

“People like Josh Bennett and I don’t get perfect. Most of the time, we don’t even get remotely tolerable.” (289)

“Everything is hell now and I deserve it, but I can handle pain if it’s pain of my own choosing.” (336)

“‘I figure the next time I want to completely destroy all chance of happiness, at least I’ll remember doing it.’ It’ll make the self-loathing that much easier.” (345)

“‘The worst part is that I’m not even allowed to be angry about it, because it’s my fault. Is that what you need me to say? That I know it’s all my fault? That none of this would have happened in the first place if I wasn’t determined to destroy myself and everyone around me? Fine. It’s all my fault! Everything is my fault, and no one knows it more than me. We’re all in hell and I’m the one who put us here.” (368)

Keep in mind that that is merely a sampling. Like, I completely get that their lives have been largely terrible, what with Nastya’s tragic past and Josh having lost all of his family (to death, not at the mall). Still, constantly telling me that they’re NOT being over the top with their thoughts about how much their lives suck is precisely the way to make me think they are being over the top, because it makes me look closer. I mean, yeah, they had shitty hands dealt to them, but, goddamn, they are still children of privilege, and intelligent besides. Plus, for all their talk of being alone, they have friends (Josh) and family (Nastya) who care deeply about them; they’re not as alone as they pretend to be. They don’t begin to have it as hard as so many other people in this world that their constant moaning about how they weren’t overreacting got seriously old.

Speaking of that angsting, if we cut that out, the book would be a way more manageable length. This book weighs in at 450 pages, and that definitely felt too long. I’m all for long books, but they shouldn’t feel long; they should feel right. While I appreciate that she took time to set up the emotions, there’s definitely space to cut things out and leave the emotional arc as is, though I would also cut out a few of the cheesier lines between Josh and Nastya that made me throw up in my mouth a little bit. I also thought the end dragged, the last fifty pages or so.

All of those things aside, I really enjoyed reading The Sea of Tranquility, and did root for Nastya and Josh most of the time, pretty much up until they actually got together (wah wah). More than them, though, I liked Drew’s family, who invites everyone over for Sunday dinner. Drew’s parents are some of the best parents I’ve seen in young adult fiction, not just to their own kids, but to their friends as well. Millay took the time to develop the secondary characters, like Drew, his family, and Clay, which rounded out the book nicely.

Despite some reservations, The Sea of Tranquility was an engaging read, one I was generally loath to put down. Millay has earned her way onto my list of authors to watch, though I hope to see a bit less angst in her next book.

Favorite Quote:

“‘Audrey Lake?’
This time he glares at me like I’ve just suggested he date the Antichrist.
‘She says supposably.'”

17 responses to “Review: The Sea of Tranquility”

  1. Kelly says:

    I’ve seen mostly positive reviews for this, so it’s nice to see something a little more balanced. While I’m hesitant to pick up a book containing 450 pages of angst, I’m still intrigued by the development of secondary characters, such a strong parental force and the story behind Natstya’s search for vengeance.

    • Christina says:

      Yay for being balanced. I was really torn. Like, I ate this up, but it did feel slow, and there were times I judged myself for liking it. So…yeah. It is pretty much 450 pages of angst, but it’s also kind of funny in a dark way. If you don’t like the beginning, you won’t like it, so maybe try it and DNF if it annoys you more than entertains?

  2. Megan K. says:

    I’ve heard great things about this book, too. To be honest, the page count doesn’t really affect me (I like big books and I cannot lie :P), though the angst in the writing and characters does set me off quite a bit. Those quotes were really angsty! Great review, Christina. I’m still interested in trying this out, but now that I know a little bit of what to expect, maybe I’ll enjoy it better. 🙂

    • Christina says:

      I like big books too, so it wasn’t so much the length as the fact that it felt like it would have been a better book with stuff trimmed out. Of course, there are also a bunch of good quotes, but, yeah, the angst is powerful. I think you should try it. Very much an interesting book.

  3. I remember getting approved for this one on NG, loading it on my reader and seeing the number of pages and my jar dropping! So long! I am reading Hopless right now and that one is really long as well, I hope it doesn’t FEEL long as this one did for you. The angsty stuff sounds kind of annoying, I don’t think I have a great grasp on what all of that is either. To me it was the constant back and forth “should I be with him or not” but I guess I was totally wrong about that, huh.

    I am still excited to read this one because so many people have loved it but I am definitely a bit more wary about it (I really wanted to put weary there) thanks for bringing my expectations down a notch!

    • Christina says:

      Hahaha, yeah, I only read this because I have auto-approval from Atria. I just grab anything that looks interesting…and sometimes I even read it. I have Hopeless too. Thanks Atria! I think you will be entertained by this one, honestly, but will likely have some of the same issues. I think it’s worth reading for you, though!

  4. Bonnie R says:

    hahahaha I love your favorite quote. People who say supposably and lie-berry can go far, far away. I’ve heard tons of crazy good things about this book but I never even considered it because… angst. I just can’t do it. Great review though. 🙂

  5. Renae M. says:

    Hah! Glad to see someone who thought the angst was a tad bit too excessive. 200 pages of angst is okay, but 400 is pushing my tolerance levels. Also agree that the two characters’ read pretty similarly, which I think was the big reason I struggled so much.

    • Christina says:

      Yeah, I still liked it, because I did enjoy the narrative voice during all of the times it wasn’t angsting and I was super curious, but I can see why you really didn’t like it.

  6. Amanda says:

    I used to enjoy reading angsty books a lot when I was a young teenager, but now that I’m a little bit outside of that age range, I don’t appreciate angst quite as much. I enjoyed those quotes you provided, but I do not think I’d want to read a whole book full of them. So many people have praised Millay’s debut, however, that I do want to read her works; I think I’ll just wait for her next one. 🙂 I’m glad you were able to find aspects that made the book enjoyable, even if there were also parts you weren’t as crazy about. I enjoyed reading your more tempered review on this (so many reviews on this have only praised it, so I was wondering what potential flaws it has haha).

    • Christina says:

      Oh man, I was so anti-angst in high school. I mostly read chick lit. I liked fizzy, happy things and classics. I am SUCH a different reader now that it’s hilarious. Anyway, I thought the good outweighed the bad, and I can see why so many love it (or hate it), but for me it was in the middle.

  7. thebookwurrm says:

    I really liked this one but dude, the lack of progress drove me nuts sometimes. I understood it was more character oriented than action but damnit, I wanted things to happen. I didn’t have much of a problem with the angst but the pacing…argh.

  8. I’ll likely be picking this one up, but I appreciate the warning about the amount of angst, since it seems like it might get on my nerves.

    A line in your review made me laugh, …”Josh having lost all his family, (to death, not the mall) I don’t know why, but that line just stuck out to me as really funny, so thanks for the laugh this early in the morning.

    • Christina says:

      I wouldn’t want to warn you off. I definitely felt like the book was good overall, but could have been better with a bit less angst and a slightly faster pace.

      Always glad to make my audience laugh. 🙂

  9. Estelle says:

    I have a review of this one coming up soon, and I know we conversed about it on Goodreads while you were reading. Very clear cut points here and you are right. The author is talented, and I will certainly be reading her next book but but but. The angst was too much… and there was way too much going on. For a long book, it moved slowly in some many areas and just didn’t have the kick I was expecting, esp after the high praise for so many. I am glad though that this author is on my radar. Always fun and interesting to see how they grow and change. Great review! (As you can see today, I’m cleaning out my email and reviewing on your blog today haha)

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