book review

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

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I am such a sucker for stories that have the ability to bring me to my knees with gut-wrenching sobs and then pick me back up with heartfelt happy endings. This book gives me that and so much more.

I started reading this book, and almost instantly, I knew how this was going to end. The more I read, the scenes in my head became much clearer, and I have to admit that I actually gave myself a mental fist-pump for predicting it. This isn’t to say that the story is a cliche though. In fact, even though I had my predictions about how it was going to end, this story still ripped me into pieces (like they say, it’s all about the journey, not the destination). I love mind-blowing plot twists as much as the next reader, but I also respect a writer who tells a simple but solid story. Katja Millay is just that type of author, and she does it with characters developed so well that their thoughts, actions and decisions help the story flow smoothly towards an ending that convincingly makes perfect sense.

Nastya Kashnikov and Josh Bennett both suffered losses at a very young age. As they navigate through life after such tragedies, we, as readers, get to unfold the different layers to these characters, and find that each uncovered layer makes the story more and more heartbreaking, but more and more beautiful at the same time.

One of the things I appreciated the most about this story is how well the author gave such depth to the characters while still grounding them fully in high school in which the story is set. It’s a careful balance between how much damage such tragedies can inherently alter and age someone so young and how much their youth plays into how they deal with such tragedies. There are so many little details in this book that support this balance, and I thought they were treated very well. For example, despite wearing such dark make-up, donning ankle-breaking heels, and hiding in her own little world fortified by silence, something so simple as Nastya playfully swinging her legs back and forth while watching Josh work on his Shop project with fascination and awe shows that in her most unguarded moments, she’s still really young at heart. Or that scene when Josh takes Nastya to a fountain and gives her a bucket full of pennies (*swoon*) to make her feel better about a birthday celebration gone wrong shows that despite everything that life has thrown his way, he still believes in something as innocent and magical as making wishes.

It’s so refreshing to read about characters that grow so organically. It wasn’t a love that was instant, although we feel the connection right away. It was gradual and it didn’t feel rushed. It was realistic and believable. Even the supporting characters like Drew (Josh’s best friend and the school’s resident heartbreaker) and Clay (a talented artist and fellow social outcast) played significant roles in moving the plot forward. In fact, Drew’s character was fleshed out so thoughtfully in this story that I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the author releasing a sequel to build on that growth. And that memory of Josh’s grandfather? Let’s just say that helped the book’s last line land that hard-hitting punch to the gut so perfectly (oh man, that last line…).

There are no wasted words in this book. Every moment, every character, every detail had its purpose. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author, and I absolutely recommend this book, especially if you loved Colleen Hoover’s “Hopeless” and “Losing Hope” books. It will take your breath away.

Rating: 5 stars

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