The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay has been on my radar since 2012, when it was published as an e-book. My aunt recommended the book to me, and it sounded like an amazing read, but I don’t read e-books very often. I have absolutely no memory retention for a story when I read on an e-reader, and I also have a tendency to flip back and forth throughout a physical book a lot, which isn’t as easy on an e-reader. But I wish-listed Millay’s novel on Amazon (probably sometime around last Christmas), and didn’t think it’s early June deadline was too long to wait. Now that I’ve read the book, I’m sort of torn on the entire waiting-for-the-published-book thing. The Sea of Tranquility is one of the best YA books I’ve read so far this year, and I almost wish I hadn’t waited as long as I had for it to come out in its printed form. But I did flip back and forth so often while I was reading, and I’m really happy to have it in printed form to pass on (my sister is reading it now!).
Nastya (“NAH-stee-ya”) Kashnikov hasn’t spoken to anyone in over a year. She has just moved in with her aunt Margot in a Florida suburb, and is happy for Margot’s shift work as a nurse, as it means they aren’t often in the same place for long. When she has to, Nastya communicates with a pen and notepad, but for the most part, she doesn’t have any desire to talk to anyone, not even to answer her mom’s brief, but worried text messages. She begins her last year of high school at Mill Creek Community High School, and she has a plan for making sure everyone avoids her and no one talks to her. Dressing in tight, skimpy clothes and stilettos, and with makeup caked on, Nastya tries to make herself unapproachable, and for the most part, it works.
As for why Nastya has decided to leave her family behind in Brighton and move two hours away to the town that Margot lives in, it remains a mystery throughout most of the book. However, the clues that Nastya gives about her past are cryptic enough to keep the reader engaged right through to the end. For instance, the first few lines that we hear from Nastya at the beginning of the book are:
I hate my left hand. I hate to look at it. I hate it when it stutters and trembles and reminds me that my identity is gone. But I look at it anyway, because it also reminds me that I’m going to find the boy who took everything from me. I’m going to kill the boy who killed me, and when I kill him, I’m going to do it with my left hand.
Nastya doesn’t provide any easy answers for the reader; the truth about her past – although hinted at throughout the book – does not come in full until near the end. One of my favorite parts of the book comes early on, when Nastya is suffering through the icebreakers in her seven high school classes on the first day back. In her Intro to Music class, the teacher has the students play two truths and a lie, where “Everyone has to say three things about themselves and one of those things has to be a lie. Then the class tries to figure out which one is the lie.” Nastya admits that it’s too bad she’s not going to participate in the game, because she has the best combination of facts about herself, and the lie isn’t exactly straightforward:
My name is Nastya Kashnikov.
I was a piano-playing prodigy who doesn’t belong anywhere near an Intro to Music class.
I was murdered two and a half years ago.
But as much as she tries to stick to herself, Nastya is slowly pulled into the new community by more than a few unlikely candidates. One of these is Josh, and he alternates his point of view with Nastya’s to tell the story. He has a past that is similarly as haunted as Nastya’s, and his classmates treat him to the same arms-length that they give to her.
I loved The Sea of Tranquility. Nastya and Josh’s narration actually sounds the way teenagers speak and incorporates shorthand phrases like SOL and WTF in the most effective way that I think I’ve seen in a YA book. The characters are so real, and what they have to reveal about themselves speaks a lot to teenage experience. Millay handles the large issues that Nastya and Josh have faced in the most authentic way possible, and they never become sensationalized in the telling of the story. I was so invested in every single thing that happened to these characters, and it was a hard book to end. I will look so forward to see what Millay takes on next, knowing that her respect and affection for her own characters will make anything she works on worth reading.