Friday, May 16, 2014

Review: The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Title: The Sea of Tranquility
Author: Katja Millay
Publisher: Atria Books
Release date: September 5th 2012
Pages: 448
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: Bought
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Full of rage and without a purpose, former pianist Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone discovering her past and to make the boy who took everything from her pay.
All 17 year-old Josh Bennett wants is to build furniture and be left alone, and everyone allows it because it’s easier to pretend he doesn’t exist. When your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.
Everyone except Nastya, a hot mess of a girl who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. The more he gets to know her, the more of a mystery she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he may ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding or if he even wants to.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Looking The Sea of Tranquility up on Goodreads after finishing it, I can see that it's gotten quite a bit of hype, but somehow, I had managed to miss all of that. And that's a good thing - I had absolutely no expectations going in, which means that I was pleasantly surprised to love it this much!

The Sea of Tranquility is a very emotional read: both Nastya and Josh have been through some terrible, terrible things. They are very compelling characters, and even though I didn't always agree with or liked them, I did always feel for them. To be honest, I liked Josh's story a little bit more than Nastya's, so I was a little disappointed by how much of the novel focused on Nastya. Nevertheless, both stories are heartbreakingly honest portrayals of the pain they've been through, and I really enjoyed them (even if "enjoy" doesn't really seem like the right word here). Even though I loed Nastya and Josh, my favorite character would have to be Drew: he seemed like the typical scumbag, but he really surprised me and turned out to be so much more.

With stories like these, I usually enjoy the characters' individual stories, but I often have issues with the romance. Luckily, though, I did like the romance in The Sea of Tranquility! It started out a little too predictable, with the standard randomly-running-into-each-other-everywhere type of scenes, but it got better once they're already friends. I really appreciated the slow development of their relationship, as well as the fact that the novel also focused on family and friendship instead of idealizing the romance as the only thing that matters. The only thing that bothered me about Nastya and Josh is how he keeps calling her Sunshine because blegh. No.

***These next two paragraphs include spoilers.***
I can't really talk about my issues with this novel without spoiling the story, so... you have been warned. There were a couple of scenes that bothered me in The Sea of Tranquility. The worst one was probably the scene in which Nastya talks to her attacker and finds out his motivations. I understand how this might add to the story, by showing that every person is multi-dimensional and more than meets the eye and whatnot, but I still wish we had never found out. Hearing the attacker's sob story seems like it's trying to evoke sympathy for him, which comes dangerously close to victim blaming. Yes, it sucks that his brother killed himself, but that still in no way justifies what he did to Nastya. An attack like that is not something that just happens because we're all hurting; it is still a deliberate act of violence, and portraying it as anything else is deeply problematic.

***Still spoilers!***
Another scene that bothered me was almost-rape at a party. I really didn't see the point of this attack in the story. What really frustrated me, though, is how it's never really addressed. Nastya says that she's seen worse, and yes, I guess you could say that her first attack was "worse," but that doesn't mean that what Kevin did was okay, and that it should go unpunished. In the same way, it bothered me how much Nastya idealizes her virginity, saying that this is the only thing that her attacker hasn't "ruined." I understand that this is a self-blaming type of thing, and since it's coming from Nastya, it's sort of okay, but I still didn't like the message it sent within the novel. The dismissal of Kevin's attack and the way that Nastya portrays loss of virginity as something that "ruins" a person transmit a very problematic message about rape and sexual assault.

Despite my problems with the message and the portrayal of violence and sexual assault, I really did enjoy this story. With unique characters and evocative writing, The Sea of Tranquility is a novel that will make you cry and laugh, and I loved it. Just please don't let the problematic depictions of sexual assault and perpetrator/victim dynamics go unnoticed.


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