There are books that bring you joy. Books that make you cry and then make you laugh. Books that make you fear the night or get you hot and bothered. Some make your favorites list, others you work overtime to hide so friends or strangers don’t know you’re even reading them.
Then there’s The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay. Four days ago I had not even heard of this book, Millay’s debut novel, and certainly didn’t know enough to classify it into any of the categories mentioned above. Now, having read it, cried over it, heaved huge sighs of relief over it, I am incapable of classifying it in any category except for the one with the title “My Favorite Books.”
The Sea of Tranquility is a misleading title. If you’re looking for something peaceful or tranquil I suggest a nice poem or prescribed medication. If, instead, you’re looking for something that crushes you and gives you hope all at once, makes you fall in love with not just the main characters but the strong, well-developed secondary characters that grace the pages, then this is the book for you.
We meet our heroine as she enters her new high school. Yes, high school. Did I forget to mention that this is a Young Adult novel about teenagers? I didn’t because it just doesn’t matter. Much like John Green’s The Fault in our Stars, The Sea of Tranquility is for every single person who can read.
But, I digress.
Told in alternating, first person point of view from the main characters, the book starts with an ominous journal entry promising death. We then meet our heroine, Nastya (pronounced NAH-stee-ya) on registration day at her new high school. She’s a beautiful, angry, sarcastically funny, young woman who you know immediately you shouldn’t cross. We meet her hero, Josh, when she does, striding across the courtyard at school. Right away Nastya recognizes that Josh has something she wants desperately: isolation. Unfortunately for her, he’s not willing to give that up for anyone, and here begins their relationship.
Nastya and Josh’s story is devastatingly beautiful. Against their will they find themselves drawn to each other. Nastya insinuates herself into Josh’s life because she recognizes herself in his isolation. He lets her in, at first because she’s just there and he has no choice. Then she gives him a gift she hasn’t shared with anyone in over a year and with it she breaks through the barrier he has built up around himself. Yet. Yet, there are secrets and secrets are a wall between the truth and fantasy.
I could go on and on for pages about Nastya and Josh, but I want you to know them by reading the book. At 426 pages, this isn’t a short book. Dialogue is scarce, yet the narration is smooth and never becomes tiresome. As a reader that enjoys a dialogue-heavy book, this one took my breath away with the thoughts and feelings of its characters. They make you laugh, they make you want to scream at them and shake them, and naturally they make you want to cry.
What’s important to know about The Sea of Tranquility is that it is honest and true. It reassures the reader that you can be broken, but still have hope. It shares a message that should be shouted through the halls of every high school and every street in every city. The actual Sea of Tranquility is a dry desert crater that covers part of the moon. Here on Earth, humanity is not dry, our hearts are not a desert. Instead we are full of life regardless of how much life has broken us. While the moon is guaranteed to be a ball of rock for eternity, humanity will always have the ability, the grace, to recover from tragedy. And that is Nastya and Josh’s story.
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