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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.
Two and a half years after an unspeakable tragedy left her a shadow of the girl she once was, Nastya Kashnikov moves to a new town determined to keep her dark past hidden and hold everyone at a distance. But her plans only last so long before she finds herself inexplicably drawn to the one person as isolated as herself: Josh Bennett.
Josh’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. When your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space. Everyone except Nastya who won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But as the undeniable pull between them intensifies, 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.
So, I did what anyone would do in such dire straits: I took my plight to the twitters, who told me almost in unison to read Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay. I was skeptical. New adult, you say? High on the angst, is it? Originally self-published? Hmm.
But I remembered Wendy recommending it during our conversation with Leigh Bardugo, so I picked it up.
And I didn’t put it down until I lay in bed with an aching chest and bittersweet tears rolling down my cheeks at two in the morning. I went to sleep with a shaky smile and a satisfied sigh because yes, THAT was what I had been looking for.
Sea of Tranquility isn’t an easy story to read–on any level. The beginning was extremely slow for me; I think at least 20% of it could have been excised for a tighter story, and a trimmer pace. I’d flounced books for much less, but something about Nastya and Josh Bennett’s story kept me reading, reaching for more.
I wanted to know them. I may have thought Nastya made ridiculous decisions, and rolled my eyes at her affectations–but I wanted to know the why of them. I wanted to know what happened to make her so brittle and brash. I could feel the throb of her bruises just under the surface of the story, but I needed to know their shape.
“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.”
Sea of Tranquility is an unquestionably heavy read, but leavened with just enough humor and romance to keep the reader from drowning, and Millay excels at writing characters who feel and sound authentic, and infusing them with a depth that is often surprising. (Here I am speaking of Drew, of course, who may be my favorite.) Every single character has an arc, and grows in some way over the course of the story.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Josh Bennett. Josh f*cking Bennett–it says so right on his birth certificate. Has there ever been a swoonier guy? With the chair. (THE CHAIR.) And the pennies. (YOU GUYS, THE PENNIES.) And the EVERY. SINGLE. THING. ABOUT. HIM. (Except for that one thing. The one that made me want to barf.) He is supremely flawed, and damaged, and sad, but just so… so… good. Josh is a good person in the way real people are good, in the way you can be good but not always nice.
“I’m going to walk over to you,” I say, taking one step at a time in her direction like I’m talking down a jumper. “I’m going to put my arms around you and I’m going to hold you,” I pause before taking the last step, “and you’re going to let me.”
I think what I appreciated most about Sea of Tranquility was that love was not the answer to every one of their problems. Nastya and Josh’s issued didn’t dissolve because they fell in love. They helped each other, in some ways they healed each other, but they couldn’t fix each other. Not by themselves.
When their issues had been written in such stark, unflinching realism, I appreciated that the resolution wasn’t a tied-with-a-bow happily ever after. It was just as romantic and bittersweet as it needed to be.
And the last two words of the story? They made every stomach twist, heart ache, tear trickle, and next-day-puffy-eyes worth it. MY. HEART.
So, Sea of Tranquility ended my Book Rut. But now I have a different problem: the Book Hangover. How can anything else I read possibly measure up? I guess I’ll have to take this to twitter again…
This review also appears on GoodReads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
Check back on Monday for a giveaway + guest post by Sea of Tranquility author Katja Millay!