Sea of Tranquility

The Sea of TranquilityThe Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m trying to find a way to review this book in a way that will do it justice, which isn’t easy, since it may be one of the best books I’ve ever read.

I ask a lot of the books I read: I want to be absorbed, to be totally wrapped up in the world it offers. I want it to be the kind of story I savor like a rich dessert, reading it slowly because I don’t want it to be over. I want characters who are believable and tug at my heart. A plot that keeps me wondering what will happen next. And a style of writing that makes me bookmark page after page and think, “Yes. Now *that* is good writing.”

This book has it all.

I’ll start off by saying I was fiercely connected to Natsya, because in many ways, she is me. I have rarely come across a character who resonates with me so strongly. I was assaulted at fifteen years old, had my innocence stolen far too young, and never found a way to deal with it. As an adult, I work out to exorcise my demons the same way she does, looking for the same “soul-draining exhaustion” so I pass out and don’t have to think. She is lost and looking for her salvation, even though she doesn’t want to admit it when she finds it. And the way the author writes Natsya and the world around her, taking the five senses and turning them on their ears, is the way I aspire to write:

“The lightning is flashing incessantly outside the window, taunting me every time it lights up the sky. My phone is on my bed, whispering in my ear like a bottle of scotch to a recovering alcoholic, while the rain continues cackling at me through my window.”

We can see how haunted she is, even though, for most of the book, we are only given hints as to why. It leaves the reader wanting to know more, as every good book should, staying up so much later than we planned just to read one more page.

And then, we meet Josh Bennett.

I don’t know how to describe this character. He is every swoony boy, every reluctant teenage hero, every damaged-but-beautiful man we’ve read, but better. And the boy knows how to use his hands. The banter that he exchanges with his best friend Drew is real, just as you would expect teenage boys to talk and not the way we romantically want them to. And Drew in himself is the character you smile at–the player with the proverbial heart of gold underneath. But Josh is the boy you wish was real. He’s Edward Cullen and Sam Roth and Jordan Catalano all rolled together but one thousand times more, real and flawed and perfect. His pain is so visceral you want to crawl between the pages to hug him, and he creeps into your heart through sawdust and building chairs and a jar of pennies.

As if all that wasn’t enough, one of the best aspects of this book was the sex, and mostly by virtue of the fact that it wasn’t there. Sure, we’ve got Josh staring at her smile, and his typical teenage-boy thoughts when Natsya steps out of his shower. There’s sex, and it’s there without being explicit. Written without needing the words. And when the words are there, they’re perfect:

“She walked in earlier in the most torturous black dress imaginable and open-toed shoes. I have too many tools going today, so she only got to stay if she changed the shoes. Part of me hoped she’d choose the leaving option so I wouldn’t have to keep looking at her in that dress and struggling to keep my dick in check, but she didn’t put me out of my misery. Weeks ago, when I finally accepted the fact that she wasn’t going away, I promised myself I wouldn’t go anywhere near her. I’m not that self-destructive. But on days when she walks in wearing tight black dresses and my work boots, I wonder how long I can keep that promise.”

There are so many unanswered questions that keep the reader turning the page. Why Natsya stopped talking. What it is about Josh’s garage that makes her feel so safe. And what really happened to keep her writing in her journal and running away from her pain, thinking thoughts like this:

“The day evil found me, I was wearing a pink silk blouse with pearl buttons and a white eyelet skirt that came all the way down to my knees and walking to school to record a Haydn sonata for my conservatory audition. The sad thing is that I didn’t even need it. I’d already recorded it once, along with a Chopin etude and a Bach prelude and fugue, but I wasn’t happy with the sonata and I wanted to record it again. Maybe if I could have lived with that slight imperfection, I wouldn’t be living with such a huge one now.”

It’s a book that speaks of second chances. Of letting yourself grieve and letting go. Of finding hope even in the midst of unbearable pain. It deserves so much more than five stars. All I can say is, read it. Read it, and then you will understand what I mean.

The Sea of Tranquility

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