Monday, January 20, 2014

Book Review: The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Once in a while, you'll find in your hands a book that transports you so completely into another life that you don't want to come back out. Every emotion, every thought becomes your own, until you begin to wonder where your feelings end and where the characters' begin. Reading "The Sea of Tranquility," Katja Millay's debut novel, is just like plunging yourself into a pool of inextricably complicated emotions of angst and love and hope and hate, and, at the same time, is like inhaling the freshest of air. I could go on and on about how amazing this book is, but, if I had to sum it all up in one word: breathtaking.

It's been three years since Nastya Kashnikov lost everything: her music, her voice, her identity. Now, she only wants two things. First is to get through high school anonymously. The second is to make the boy who took away her life pay for what he did to her. Josh Bennett's story is no secret: every person he has ever loved was taken from him until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. Everyone leaves him alone--everyone but the new girl at school, Nastya, who keeps showing up at his garage and won't go away until she has insinuated herself into every part of his life.

There are so many things to talk about with this novel that I don't know where to begin... but I guess I'll start off with the storyline! The plot of "The Sea of Tranquility" is at once haunting and sweet, while remaining compelling throughout the novel. Ms. Millay packs a lot of punch in the 450ish pages, seamlessly combining realistic fiction, thriller and romance into a story that pulls you in and never lets go. From the very first page, you're introduced to Nastya's unusual and unfortunate predicament: she's been almost murdered by a boy, and she's bent on finding him and making him pay for what he's done to her. While, at first, it may seem like it could go in a purely thriller direction involving guns and revenge, the novel is really about the emotional journey a girl who has lost all her meaning in life goes through. "The Sea of Tranquility" is really an emotional sucker punch, one so rich and evocative that, even without the action movie-esque chase scenes and such, draws you in completely and utterly.

I think now's a perfect place to talk about the main character of the novel, Nastya. Can I just say here, wow. Nastya is not your typical female protagonist. She's gritty, sarcastic and intentionally wears the tightest and shortest clothing, yet, under all of the black eyeliner and devil-may-care attitude, vulnerable, compassionate and, above all, broken. The complexity of Nastya's character is developed and fostered so intricately throughout the novel, opening your eyes to the truths in her emotions and thoughts. Her narrative voice is undeniably compelling, and Ms. Millay's incredible writing perfectly captures Nastya's tumultuous mental experiences while revealing things between the lines. One small critique I have is about a little quirk that Nastya's meant to have: her fascination with names and their meanings. This was revealed early on in the novel, but I felt like it was a little too forced and was kind of put there to make her even quirkier. I think if Ms. Millay had brought up names more throughout the middle portion of the novel, it would seem a lot more natural, but it can't be said that she definitely ties the whole name thing in nicely toward the end--very cleverly done!

Josh Bennett is the other main character of "The Sea of Tranquility," one who is equally as compelling as Nastya. What makes the whole novel so interesting and so hauntingly real is how messed up both of them are. In fact, I'd say that pretty much all of the characters are, in some way or another and in varying degrees, just like how, in real life, nobody is perfect. Everyone has flaws. But back to Josh. Because of the aforementioned messed up-ness of the two characters, it's no challenge to see how Josh and Nastya are drawn toward each other from the start. But what really makes their relationship so refreshing and so intriguing is the way they both complement each other and become the other person's beacon of light and of salvation, yet resist each other and push love away. In fact, it's this that really makes the development of their relationship so real and so believable. You don't get any of that flash-bang insta-love here. And thank the heavens for that! Even after they finally get together, you don't get the perfect boyfriend-girlfriend romance between the two. Oh, no. I unquestionably adored reading about Nastya and Josh's relationship as it unfolded throughout the novel, even through its ups and downs.

Even though we don't hear from the perspectives of the other characters in the novel, they are just as complex, dynamic and interesting as Nastya and Josh. Drew Leighton, Josh's best friend and the school's "man whore," is undeniably one of my favourite characters in the novel. At first, I admittedly thought he was just a flirty playboy, and I kind of dismissed him as simply that. But as I continued reading the novel and discovered more about his character, I ended up becoming invested in him as well, and really sympathized with the misconceived golden boy. I'd say more about him, but I want you to experience that change in perception of his character for yourself! There are many, many other characters in the novel that I could talk about, like Clay, Sarah, Tierney, Margot, Nastya's parents, etc., but this post would never end. Just trust me when I say that the characters are, in a word, amazing. Take my word for it!

Overall, "The Sea of Tranquility" is an incredible breath of fresh air, with a gritty and compelling storyline, hauntingly beautiful writing, and a cast of complex, dynamic characters you'll end up falling in love with, flaws and all. This is undoubtedly one of the best books I've read in a while, and I know you'll enjoy it just as much as I did! Highly, highly recommended. Like, now.

Rating: 5/5

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