The Sea of Tranquility tells the story of Nastya and Josh, two individuals who have been greatly impacted by loss and are doing their best to cope with its aftermath. Nastya Kashnikov is a former pianist, who has experienced a trauma that has left her permanently injured and unable to play. She reinvents herself a someone no one would bother with, heavy makeup and dark provocative clothes, in an attempt to get through her time at a new high school having to associate with as few people as possible. And if her new look doesn’t work, she has a back up plan. She just won’t talk. In fact, she hasn’t spoken since shortly after her accident and refuses to speak anyone, even her family. Josh Bennett first lost his mother and sister, and then his father in separate tragedies. He has recently lost his only remaining family, his grandfather, and has become accustom to being alone taking solace in his workshop. Everyone keeps their distance from him at school, unsure of what to say to a boy who has lost everyone he has ever loved- and Josh is fine with that. He is just as content keeping everyone at arm’s length as Nastya is until they cross paths. Together they are able to work towards happiness in this moving story of loss, acceptance, and forgiveness.
I have to start off by saying it has been awhile since I have unintentionally stayed up all night reading a book. When The Sea of Tranquility came my way, I added it to my Kindle and decided to open it up for a quick look before bed. That quick look lasted till the very last page and included many laughs, two bouts of tears, and one of the most satisfying endings I have read in awhile. Before I knew it, it was 5am and I felt like I had just experienced a book that would stay with me for a very long time.
The story is told in split first person point of view. Both Nastya and Josh narrate and at times the point of view changes multiple times in a chapter. Normally this would throw me for a loop, but I found their voices to be so unique that I could immediately tell who was speaking at any given moment. I spoke to Millay about this in my interview with her, and she said she allowed the characters to speak as they needed to, which I found to be both beautiful in concept and extremely effective in her writing. I really enjoyed the changing perspectives, especially since neither character is a completely reliable narrator. I say they are unreliable not because they try to mislead the reader, but because Millay has done such a wonderful job of writing these characters that their individual life experiences, misconceptions, and personalities truly come across both in their narration and dialogue. Nastya and Josh’s viewpoints are so altered by their experiences that they often don’t see things for what they actually are and hearing both perspectives helped me to “read between the lines” of what was truly developing between them.
What I liked most about The Sea of Tranquility was the subtly of how the love story developed and the emphasis the story put on personal growth and acceptance. Although Nastya and Josh certainly help each other to find happiness, this is not your usual a “love interest fixes everything” type story. Nastya says it herself right in the book’s opening “I live in a world without magic or miracles… no angels or superhuman boys to save you.” The boy that catches her attention is not Drew, the incredibly attractive and sociable one that all the girls flock t0 (although they do become friends), it’s Josh, who sits quietly alone and may just best her in emotional baggage that she is drawn to. He is far from a white knight riding to her rescue, even acting like he would rather not be bothered at first, but that’s ok because Nastya is not looking for a hero. She’s looking for someone who will accept and understand her, even if she doesn’t realize it, and she finds that in Josh. They are both as independent and strong as they are vulnerable beneath the surface and seem well aware that a relationship will not solve all their problems… maybe even a little too aware.
Loss has made Nastya and Josh reluctant to make real connections with others making all of their relationships, whether it be family, friendship, or romantic, difficult to maintain. As a result, the romance that develops between them is far from a fairy tale, with both characters being openly flawed and their relationship being filled with moments of frustration, hope, betrayal, and forgiveness. It is not until they learn to face and accept their own issues that they are able to find real happiness together and with those around them. Following Nastya and Josh on that journey brought me to tears more than once while reading, and I honestly cannot remember the last time I have read such a realistic portrayal of a love story.
At this point you might think the book is all seriousness and tears, so I have to say there are laugh out loud moments in The Sea of Tranquility as well, usually as the result of the inner thoughts of Nastya and Josh. Millay holds nothing back when narrating what these two teenagers are thinking, so be aware there is some strong/adult language, but it is not used haphazardly and comes across as more honest or amusing than off color in my opinion. The friendship between Nastya and Drew also provides some good laughs, but I do not want to give too much away about that!
In addition to the relationship aspect of The Sea of Tranquility, there is a mystery element with the reader gradually finding out what happened to Nastya and her determination to make her assailant pay. I felt like as a reader, I slowly got to know Nastya the same way Josh did and that definitely added to the book’s appeal along with the question of what will Nastya do when she eventually finds her attacker. There is also a bit of a kicker with a detail from the book’s beginning coming back to play a big part in the end that I found to be a very rewarding payoff.
I truly applaud Millay for the masterful way she crafted the characters of The Sea of Tranquility. By the end of the book, I felt like I really knew Nastya, Josh, and even some of the supporting cast. I might have fallen a little bit in love with Josh Bennett, flaws and all, too. If you have not figured it out yet, I thought this was an excellent book and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a more realistic love story or just a good read in general.