The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay ( twitter )
Publication Date: June 4, 2013 (in paperback)
Publisher: Atria Books
Target audience: Mature young adult/adult
Keywords: recovery, trauma, high school seniors
Format read: ARC from NetGalley! (Thanks!)
Summary: The Sea of Tranquility connects two people who are living in their own voids of loneliness: Nastya, a girl who escapes to her aunt’s house and a new high school just to blend it and get through the day without being asked about her past and Josh, an emancipated high school senior who, by terrible twists of fate, has been left to fend for himself. When Nastya and Josh form an unexpected and unconventional friendship, the two are forced to remember and deal in ways they have avoided for a long time.
Katja Millay is a very talented, thorough writer. You can tell she has taken great lengths to fully understand the depths of her two characters, and even does this without jipping the secondary characters either (Drew and his mom are awesome).
We begin with two broken people, and piece by piece, come to discover why they are the way they are. Why does Nastya run all hours of the night? Why is she okay with dressing like an emo whore? Why does Josh find such solace in woodworking? And why does everyone at school treat him so differently? It’s rather unlikely that these two characters would find much in common but somehow they do, even if it takes a little work to get there. And then a little more work after that.
Nothing comes easy in The Sea of Tranquility. For me, it took three false starts before I could get into the flow, and even then, I found myself working through the book very slowly. Until there was this beautiful, delicious bubble of Josh and Nastya forming this languid bond of domesticity that I could not get enough of. A certain aspect of Nastya’s character really helped create this intimate chemistry between the two, and I so loved what they did for one another.
Unfortunately, the story veered off track into more of a dramatic realm when more and more tragedy piled up on the character’s plates, as well as a happenstance moment that occurs all too perfectly later in the book. Even Nastya’s voice didn’t always fit her dark thoughts or her actions, and felt a bit romanticized. Don’t get me wrong — Millay created an intriguing story with interesting characters but there was just so much jammed on the page that it had me questioning its believability instead of feeling more for the characters.
Still there is something about this title that is so addicting. Whether it’s how kind of great Josh is or Nastya’s playful but steady friendship with their shared best friend, Drew. Then there’s the mystery (what event led to Nastya’s current behavior), which leads to the ultimate question: can two people who have faced such hardships overcome and begin again?
It’s a rocky road from start to finish, but I’m ultimately glad The Sea of Tranquility put Millay on my radar.
Sidenote: I believe this book is being marketed as “new adult” for more mature themes (drugs, sexuality, violence) but I am more confused by this designation than I was before. All the main characters in this novel are seniors in high school, and I’ve read various books where there has been equal amount of drugs, sexuality, and violence. (Daisy Whitney’s The Mockingbirds for example.) So what makes this story in particular NA exactly?