Initial reaction: I’m just going with my gut and give this about 3.5 stars, because that’s probably the most consistent rating I had for this book throughout my journey through it. It’s almost easier to tell you what ratings I wouldn’t give this book. It’s definitely not a 5-star read for me because there were one too many problems in its progression for me to necessarily overlook or have a suspension of disbelief over them. Yet, this book isn’t anywhere near 1 or 2 stars for me because the level of the writing and the intimacy taken to the characters makes this miles better than most novels I’ve perused in this genre, and I dare to say it’s probably the best of the mainstream NA novels I’ve come across. It says quite a bit, but not nearly as much as I’d hope it would’ve been.
I will say one definitive thing, this will not be the last novel I read from Katja Millay. I really hope to read more from her.
Normally I would give myself time to meditate over expounding my thoughts on a read like “The Sea of Tranquility”, but I think I have a balance of reactions to be able to reflect on it so soon after reading it.
A brief tangent first – I couldn’t help but think of Emilie Autumn’s song “Swallow” several times in the duration that I read this book. It’s really weird because it matches the voice of the leading female character and some coloring of her experiences almost to a tee. I mean, she’s “not a faerie”, obviously, but death, resurrection and something akin to a series of spells drowning color Nastya’s experiences. They color Josh’s world too, but probably not as closely as Nastya.
Having said that, this is probably one of those books that honestly – you’re not going to know how you react to it unless you try it or you have an understanding of what it entails and can decide whether it works for you. I didn’t go in with very high expectations
more like my expectations were nearly scraping the bottom of the barrel. My luck with New Adult in the past year has been one miss after the next – most of you who’ve followed my reviews probably know that more intimately than others who are just coming across this reflection for the first time.
That’s not to say that “Sea of Tranquility” is a novel that completely sheds the coat of stigma associated with New Adult. It has cheese, it has slut shaming (rampant if you will, which drove me up the wall). It has two protagonists who are very notably damaged by their past and present experiences. Eventually they have a coming of terms with each other and it seems that they lean on each other “to heal”. They can be very difficult to watch in their actions, reactions, and mental voices in spurts. The drama goes from 0-60 faster than it can process, and the whole cascade of events can “drown” you fast, for better and worse. I feel like the middle woman able to see why people love this to bits or hate it for its derivations.
Yet, I think “Sea of Tranquility” deserves more credit than the string of carbon copy stories that I’ve seen in New Adult or even in the contemporary scope of what it’s closer to in narrative – YA. The level of character intimacy here, from voice to attention to internal struggle, is impeccably well done. Nastya and Josh are both teens with palpable internal struggles and you see where their minds are in a given moment for the experiences they have. I only wish more NA authors had that same apt narrative eye, because it’s the kind of eye and focal point to character that I love. This is also a notably character driven story.
Nastya and Josh reveal enough to tell you why they’re in the present situations and problems they’re in, but not enough to completely tell you why they do the things they do. They sound like elder teens, and notably there’s a level of similarity to their snark and approaches to life, but I don’t think that’s so much a flaw in voice as it is a commonality they share, and something that ultimately lends to how they connect with each other. The narrative doesn’t feel like it’s forcing its hand to bring these two together, rather they kind of fall into terms with being in the same environment and connecting in the odd measures in which they learn about each other.
Nastya’s known as the girl “who can’t talk” – she’s selectively mute, not by physical injury or disability, but rather more along the lines of what I recall Hannah Harrington’s leading character in “Speechless” did – she takes a selective vow of silence. Only in this work, you’re not exactly sure why Nastya takes this silence. The only thing you can likely guess (correctly) is that something happened. Something *killed* her. She keeps making this point quite a bit in the narrative (it makes sense later and comes full circle in a more symbolic way than I thought it would do). In the meantime, Josh is a damaged teen who keeps experiencing loss in his family without knowing repercussions, which lends him to be reckless in more ways than one.
I think I had a rougher time getting into the narrative not because of anything the protagonists do in this narrative to start, but rather how it sometimes overexpounds in the character voices in points. The actual prose is beautifully intimate in some places, but at the same time, it hampers the flow of the work. I think it could’ve been just as potent if it’d been streamlined better.
I actually enjoyed watching Nastya and Josh get to know each other, alongside some of the larger cast that colors the novel. The characters are more dimensional than most I’ve come across in this age group/genre, but they’re not easy to like. “Sea of Tranquility” has this very prominent darkness to the narrative with spots of humor, dark in texture, sometimes to the point where it hinges on the melodramatic. I think as opposed to most narratives I’ve come across, there’s reasons for the conflict presented for the most part (I would argue this isn’t so much the case in the last part of the novel where it tries to rush events and some of them come one after the other without that much expansion).
I stated in one of my status updates that reading “Sea of Tranquility” was like running a marathon – having a rough beginning, finding a smooth transition once the flow’s found, getting to the runner’s high when you’re far enough in to watch the events and find the interactions valuable, and then all of a sudden hit the darned wall. It’s meaningful, but not rounded as well as it could’ve been.
For what it’s worth, I really enjoyed parts of this novel – watching the relationships, seeing bits of the snarky humor, the strong writing/narrative and just finding a space where the conflict actually did have substantiated weight to it in some progressions. But it wasn’t without flaws. Some of it is cheese (i.e. Josh calling Nastya “Sunshine”), some of it is formulaic (tragic past lovers, anyone?). I really didn’t see the point to the frequent slut-shaming, I didn’t like how in the last maybe 15-20% the conflicts in the novel didn’t have as much vetting out as prior points. I didn’t like how some of the overarching thematics had the same texture of the formula that colors romances in this age group (i.e. “love heals wounds,” etc.).
That said, in light of its virtues being what they were and considering its vices constructively – I would recommend this, and I definitely valued the experience on an overall note. I’m hoping to read more from Millay in the future.
Overall score: 3.5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Atria Books.