Sea of Tranquility: review

June 7, 2013 2013, 4.5 star books, katja millay, tonya 85 ★★★★½

Sea of Tranquility: reviewThe Sea of Tranquility on June 4, 2013
Genres: contemporary
Pages: 448
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
AmazonIndieboundBarnes & NobleGoodreads
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.
I’ve been in a book rut. I’d started no less than five books, and finished exactly zero of them. Nothing grabbed me. Nothing excited me, or made me feel anything but vague annoyance, boredom, or mild confusion.

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.”

Katja Millay does an excellent job of keeping the reader in almost total darkness about Nastya’s past, giving us just enough to know without knowing, to feel without seeing.

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!

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85 Responses to “Sea of Tranquility: review”

  1. Rowena Hailey

    I am definitely adding this book to my TBR pile. This is actually the first time I’ve heard of this one, and I’m very intrigued. If you want to try another book with damaged teens, I would recommend The Sky is Everywhere. It’s beautifully written and has some fantastic character development. I also want to check out What Happens Next. Excellent review.

    Rowena Hailey (All Alaska Outdoors Fishing Lodge – Alaska Ptarmigan Hunting)

  2. Luisa Benavides

    I was going back and forth about putting this on my to read list but after reading your review of the book I’m deff. going to read it next!

  3. Alexa Y.

    I’ve read this one as well, and I think the way you talked about it is so, so wonderful. It describes almost exactly how I’d feel about it, even though I bristled a bit more at Nastya’s character. I love that you were able to so eloquently review it, and I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    • tonya

      Thank you, Alexa. I definitely didn’t “get” Nastya’s character for most of the first half, and kept thinking, “Why is this girl so weird? This is dumb.” And then it finally clicked and I loved her.

  4. Lauren @ Love is not a triangle

    A beautiful, moving review of a book that I’m so excited has gotten this much attention! I loved going into this one not knowing much and seeing it all unfold around me. I agree the beginning was slow, but as this book progressed I couldn’t look away. I still want to barf about that ONE THING though. But these characters have stuck with me, even months after I finished this story.

    • tonya

      THAT ONE THING. I almost had to put the book down, my face was all hot and my hands were shaking, but I couldn’t make myself do it. UGH. And yet…. I still love him, and could totally sympathize with his actions even as I hated it. SO GOOD.

  5. K.

    I just realized that I haven’t commented, Tonya! This is probably one of my favourite reviews by you. Articulate, passionate and convincing. I especially love the quote that Wendy mentioned. What a beautiul way to describe your feelings. Love this. And I can’t wait to love the book.

    • tonya

      High praise from you, K! Thank you. :) I saw on twitter that you’d picked it up–can’t wait for your thoughts!

  6. erin

    Thanks for the great review! Been reading great buzz about this book… definitely going to have to add to my want list ;)

  7. Jaime Lester

    I have yet to jump on the New Adult train because I am not a huge fan of reading about people getting it on. Not that there is anything wrong with it, because…. well, you know, there isn’t! But I get highly embarrassed even when I am alone in my house reading about it. And with New Adult, basically every book that I have read a review for has had an “X-rated, 18+ only” disclaimer. Until I started seeing reviews for this one. And I bought myself a kindle copy. Now, after reading your reviews and knowing that I generally agree with your opinions on stories, I think I am going to make this a priority read. So thank you for the great review!

    • tonya

      I hope you do! I think my NA comment was a little misleading… I would actually classify it as New Adult, as the characters are still in high school, but it is more on the mature side. That being said, there is very little sex in the story, and what’s there is not at all graphic–so no need for embarrassment! :)

      I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

    • tonya

      Thank you! I’m thinking about rereading too. Will probably save it for when my paperback comes and I can highlight and dog-ear to my heart’s content.

  8. Sunny Duvall

    WHY haven’t I read this one sooner? I had no interest until I saw many good reviews, but then I saw YOUR review and I’m like “I need this in my hands.” I love emotional reads and while I have to pace myself with heavy books, this sounds WONDERFUL. I’m also really anticipating Josh. Great review, I feel like I’m already swooning.

    • tonya

      DO IT DO IT. Just line up a lighthearted, happy-making book for after (or in between), as it is a very heavy book that will weigh on you even after you’ve finished. I’m still thinking about it!

  9. Carina Olsen

    Great review Tonya :D Seen a whole lot of people loving this book. It’s starting to make me curious ;p Thank you for sharing. <3 Sigh. The characters sounds AMAZING :D
    Thank you for commenting on my blog. <3
    Love, Carina @ Carina’s Books

    • tonya

      It was like a rollercoaster! I bounced from one emotion to the other. Love when a book can really affect me.

  10. Molli Moran

    Ladies, I am desperate for this book. I have heard such lovely things, including this review. Tonya made Josh sound very swoon-worthy, and I love that the couple didn’t just get everything resolved by becoming a couple. I love seeing characters who get better, but have to work at it – that feels very realistic usually.

    Great review!

    Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

    • tonya

      Josh is completely swoon-worthy, and their dynamic and relationship felt very “real”, even in a pretty far-fetched (for lack of a better word) situation. The characters, and Josh and Nastya’s relationship were the real starts of this book.

  11. Ems

    I have never heard of this one before today. The cover grabbed me, and then your review finished the job. I’m reading this one for sure.

    Thanks for a great review, and for helping my TBR mountain to grow!


  12. Melanie

    I’m so tempted to pick this one up at the library now. The reviews I’ve been seeing are nothing but positive. Sounds like a beautifully romantic novel!

    Fantastic review, Tonya! <33

    • tonya

      Well… beware, PARTS of it are romantic, and parts are gritty and dark and completely gutting. So, don’t go in expecting fluffy romance. ;)

  13. Jaz

    YES OMG that ending. It killed me. It killed everything in me and when I finished I was like “it all makes sense now. I am complete”

    • tonya

      YES. And so subtle because even though I’d been weirded out by its mention at the time, I’d completely forgotten about it until those two words at the end. And then I just died. GOD.

  14. Ashley @ Book Labyrinth

    Ughhh I just LOVE this book. I’ve already re-read it, but I think once my pre-order hardcopy arrives I’ll have to read it again. Just so freaking good. And YES re: those last words. Ah-mazinggg.

    • tonya

      I can’t wait to get my paperback to reread. Somehow paper pages will make the story that much more REAL. <3

  15. Kritika

    I’ve been hearing a lot about this book lately, especially about how emotionally exhausting it is. What’s the difference between New Adult and Young Adult? I know New Adult is supposed to be “edgier” but I feel like there’s quite a bit of “edgy” or “mature” YA out there already.

    • tonya

      To be honest, as far as New Adult vs Young Adult… I don’t think there’s a clear distinction. From what I’ve heard, New Adult has more/graphic sexual content, but otherwise I think they could be interchangeable.

  16. Keertana

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this one, Tonya! I was impressed with this debut as well and the characters took to my heart. It was so well written and subtle, yet so emotional. Fantastic review!(:

    • tonya

      I just read your review on GoodReads–you said everything I was thinking but couldn’t put into words. :)

  17. Sarah

    I need a book to help me out of my reading rut too, will be looking out for this!

  18. Ciska van der Lans

    I love your review. It does describe the book so well. I am normally not such a swoon person when it comes to bookish characters but Josh Bennett does deserve a spot somewhere. And I loved Drew he was such an important character.
    Glad this book helped you a bit with your book rut and I hope you will find a worthy next read.

    • tonya

      Thank you! I am notorious for swooning over book boys, but Josh Bennett holds a special place now. He was just so.. so.. SIGH. And I loved Drew. His progression throughout the story was great, and he was such a fun character.

  19. Wendy Darling

    I could feel the throb of her bruises just under the surface of the story, but I needed to know their shape.

    Oh, you. This is so lovely.

    I’m so glad you loved it! I loved your initial one word reaction to this book: GUTTED. It describes the end feeling perfectly.

    • tonya

      Doesn’t it? I just that’s what the blurb should say: PROCEED WITH CAUTION: This book will tear your guts out.

      Thank you for recommending this to me! (Although I blame you entirely for my puffy eyes and book hangover, hee.)

    • K.

      Wendy took the quote right off my lip! Figures that she and I would notice the exact same thing, haha!!

  20. Melody Silverleaf

    [comment is from Xyra]
    I am quite familiar with the book hangover…it usually leads me to read the same book many times in a row until I finally wrench myself away. LOL

  21. Chelsea

    I know exactly how you feel. I finished this book last night. I refused to go to bed until I was done. There was no way I would sleep not knowing how it all ended. :-)

    • tonya

      How could you? Once I got about 40% in I was so wrapped up I couldn’t think of anything else.

  22. Book Wookie

    Awesome! OMG, if I move any more books around on my to-read pile, I might give myself whiplash. On the plus side, I already have a galley of this so it automatically gets a closer position to the top.

    I really want to know what it is about the chair and the pennies? My mind automatically thinks dirty thoughts. LOL!

    • tonya

      WHOOO! Push that right to the top, girl. ;)

      Unfortunately, there’s nothing dirty about the chair or the pennies… just serious, heart fluttery swoons. Which is almost as good, hee.

  23. Amy

    I have this for review and I can’t wait to read it. I know I will love it, but I think I’ve waited because I’m afraid of it. I have such high expectations and I don’t want to not love it!! I think I am getting the audio of it for review so I might wait and just listen to it. It’s best to listen to emotional books so I don’t have to stop reading when I can’t see through my tears. Fabulous review!!

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh Amy, you will love this. I don’t have any doubt in my mind…and I’m going to be spying on you to see if I’m right!

    • tonya

      I have done that with so many books, and then kicked myself for waiting so long. I hope you love it!

  24. Fred LeBaron

    Great review of an awesome book, Tonya! And yeah, it is def hard to find a follow up to this one, for sure! Thank goodness for re-reads!

    • tonya

      Thank you, sir! I just read ATTACHMENTS by Rainbow Rowell, which was a great light hearted follow up. And I’ve heard HOW TO LOVE by Katie Cotugno is supposed to be similar.

  25. lisa farhana

    ugh Josh effin Bennett. Every time he says ‘sunshine’ my heart does this fluttering thing it’s crazy! He’s so swoonworthy.

    And YES, the last two words of the story. UGHHHH.

    Love the review, Tonya!

    • tonya

      YES. And the chair. I thought I was having heart palpitations I was swooning so hard. Geez louise, he’s just the best.

  26. Mary @ BookSwarm

    God, I do hate book ruts. Book hangovers are okay but ruts are the worst! While this one sounds like a book I’d give up on (I tend to be a bit impatient when it comes to beginnings…), it also sounds like I shouldn’t! *adds to TBR list*

    • tonya

      I am SO impatient and give up on books so easily. I think the prologue was what kept me going through this one. It was intense and intriguing enough that I pushed through the somewhat weird and slow beginning.

    • tonya

      I hope you give it a chance! It truly is a stunning debut. Just keep in mind the beginning is slow, but it gets 1000% better. :)

  27. Natalie Natflixandbooks

    I’ve been going through a serious book rut, myself. I just cannot seem to finish anything. This doesn’t sound like the book for me, but I’m happy you found something to cure what ailed you. Great review!
    -Natalie @Natflix&Books

    • tonya

      I’m sorry this doesn’t seem like it’d be your cup of tea, but let me know if you need any other recommendations. I’m happy to help a fellow Book Rut victim.

  28. Andrea @The Bookish Babes

    Ohmygosh! THIS REVIEW! I am so happy you gave The Sea of Tranquility a chance, Tonya, and that you loved it. And seriously, those last two words and probably the best last two words ever.

    Again, great review !

    • tonya

      Thank you! My initial review on GoodReads when I finished last week was simply, “GUTTED.” Those two words, man. GAH. BEST.

  29. starryeyedjen

    I’m about to start this one. I’ve been in a reading slump, too, of sorts, so I’m glad to hear that Sea of T was great. Not so excited about the book hangover, but well, I’d rather that than the slump. :P

    • tonya

      Yes, that’s a perfect way to describe it! I felt so drained when I was finished, like I’d gone through everything with them.

  1. YAuthor Talk: Katja Millay | The Midnight GardenThe Midnight Garden

    […] YAuthor Talk is a monthly feature where we ask our favorite authors 5 random questions just for fun! Join us for bookish musings, crazy tangential conversations, and more. This month we’ve got the author of one of the two books all four of us Midnight Gardeners named as one of our Favorite Books of 2013: Katja Millay, who penned the heartbreaking and beautiful The Sea of Tranquility. […]