December 4, 2012

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

What's that you say? You love a good dissenting opinion? Well, that's works out well. Because here I am. Not thrilled, but certainly prepared, to be the lone voice of dissent on this one. I went ahead and read an ARC of Katja Millay's The Sea of Tranquility after sifting through the seemingly universal ecstatic reviews that have been pouring in from all and sundry. And when I say universal, I mean universal. Readers across the board are going out of their ever loving minds over this book. Yeah. I kind of had to get in on that action, especially when a review copy floated my way. This is Millay's debut novel. She self-published it a couple of months ago, and it has (as has become the way of things) since been acquired by Atria Books for paperback publication this summer. A change of cover went along with the acquisition (as is usually the case), and I have to say I'm likely in the minority on this subject as well. I much prefer the self-pub cover. But as the overall package didn't work for me anyway, that's really neither here nor there.

Nastya doesn't talk. Ever. She's recently moved in with her aunt and is starting school in an unfamiliar environment. And she knows very well how the student body is going to react, not just to her lack of voice but to her unorthodox appearance as well. In fact, she courts it. Ever since . . . what happened to her . . . Nastya has adopted a forbidding public facade. When she's alone, the clothes include colors, the makeup is washed off, and she runs. As if for her very life. And yet a couple of people at her new school attach to her anyway, including uber-lascivious Drew and his best friend (and opposite in almost every way) Josh Bennett. Nastya's not sure why, but Drew seems to view her as his next conquest, while Josh watches her from afar, walking around inside a force field of his own. And, somehow, without even wanting to, Nastya becomes incorporated into their daily and weekly rituals. But it's when she stops in the middle of her nightly run and sees Josh in his garage, laboring away over his woodworking projects, that her routine really changes. Unfortunately, neither of them are quite prepared for how that one alteration in routine is going to overhaul their lives. For two people keeping as many dark secrets as they are, even the most minuscule of human connections could spell disaster.

I feel bad about this, but wow was I expecting more. I went in not knowing anything about this book at all, which was exactly the way I wanted it. But I did expect to be engaged. I expected to want to finish it. Unfortunately, I felt neither. I understand how the setup worked so well for many readers. The secrets, the slow buildup between characters, the angry, angsty girl that so often I adore. It makes sense on paper. But I felt such a distance between myself and these characters, a wall of ice separating me from the agony and the longing they experienced nonstop for close to 500 pages. This separation extended to the characters' talents and passions as well. Nastya's love for the piano, Josh's passion for woodworking, Clay's artistry . . . they were spelled out on the page but never brought to life in my mind. Barring that connection to anything but isolation and pain, I simply could not connect or care what happened to them. Instead of exquisite, slow-building tension, what I felt was a terminally lifeless pace and a drab persistence in skirting actually meaningful moments. The Sea of Tranquility felt like an oddly antiseptic mash-up of Easy and If I Stay/Where She Went, with more of an emphasis on the pain and violence and less of an effort at character depth and growth. I soldiered through to the end, wanting to make sure I didn't miss out on any sudden flashes of light. But the storytelling remained business as usual to the very end, at which point we got a parting line that sort of pushed me over the edge. It seemed to encapsulate every promise this book ever held and never lived up to. It felt like a last-ditch attempt at the sort of emotional manipulation I detest. Too little, far, far too late. As I mentioned, I am not remotely within a stone's throw of the majority of opinions on this book. So grain of salt, mileage may vary, onward and upward, etc.

The Sea of Tranquility is available now in ebook form and will be published in paperback on June 4th.

Buy: Amazon B&N

Linkage
The Allure of Books - "The Sea of Tranquility is on my fave reads OF ALL TIME list."
Dear Author - "It was an emotionally satisfying book in large part due to the ending."
Love is Not a Triangle - "I urge you to pick up The Sea of Tranquility and experience Nastya and Josh's story for yourself."
Reading After Midnight - "A great contemporary romance that will break your heart a bit, but it will be well worth it.

30 comments:

  1. Grateful for your review -- I felt like I should get it due to the love, but I don't know, the cover didn't grab me. I suspect your thoughts would echo my own!

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    1. Glad it could be helpful, Audra. I felt like I was surely missing something roundabout halfway through. But no. Just not a book for me at all.

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  2. I have been waiting for your review of this, because it's been sooooooo praised and all, but soooooo many of these have super-hyped self-pubbed to traditionally published books have disappointed me (with the exception of Easy.

    Anyway.... this is always a deal-breaker for me,

    "It felt like a last-ditch attempt at the sort of emotional manipulation I detest."

    Great review, Angie.

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    1. Have you? Well, I finished it and just had to write the review. THE FEELINGS were raging through me. None of them good, obviously. And I still just don't get the fanaticism about it. At all.

      Yeah, the ending just made me so mad. Had to cast about for something else to start quickly after it to try and cleanse the palate.

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  3. I liked it, but I didn't think it was perfect. I felt like the slow-building romance was great, as well and the surprising relationship the heroine develops with Drew. It was an unexpected and welcome deviation from the norm. But to me, the book was way too long. The forever dragging of the big revelation became annoying fast, and I wonder if that's one of the reasons why you weren't able to establish a deeper connection with the characters. The ending was slightly anticlimactic, although I admit that the last 10% was my favorite part of the book, just because finally something happened. The book walks the fine line between delicious angst and emo whining, and sometimes it crosses over and stays emo for too long. But overall it was an enjoyable book, not a favorite of the year, but enjoyable. I can see your point, though, and I'm not surprised it didn't work for you.

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    1. I liked Drew all right. I wish we'd seen more of him and Josh together as opposed to the two of them circling Nastya on an endless loop. I agree that it went on way too long and it just felt so choppy to me. I wasn't surprised by anything, which detracted from the experience as a whole. And by the time the end rolled around I was just done with the lot of them. I'm glad you enjoyed it, though, Brie. I imagine it's going to do well.

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  4. I'm so glad that you wrote this. I've been hearing nothing but good things about this one, and really wondered if it was worth my time. And you never lead me astray Angie.

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    1. Phew. I'll try to keep that streak alive. :)

      I really would not recommend this one for you at all. It was a chore to finish.

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  5. I'm bummed you didn't love it! But as always, I appreciate your perspective - and every book won't work for every person :)

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    1. You were one of the main reasons I felt bad! Ack. I wanted to love it after reading your review. But I guess the line it was walking and the line I walk were not destined to be one. It really is true re: every book and every reader. Which is truthfully one of the things I love most about books. And people.

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  6. It was a slow burn of a book, but I appreciated the nuance of it. Drew rocked. I just adored his character. But I know not every book is for everyone and you gave a very honest and thoughtful review and stated why it didn't work for you.

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    1. Thanks, Laura. I appreciate that. It's interesting how much of a hit Drew was. At times I did find myself wanting to split off and spend some time watching him and Tierney duke it out!

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  7. I'm sorry that this book didn't work out for you quite the way you hoped it would, Angie! I'll admit, though, that I'm kind of glad to read a not-so-stellar review of this book. So much hype surrounding a book makes me a little wary. I am still intrigued by this book, but I feel that I don't really know what it's about. Maybe I'll try it out, I guess I'll wait and see.

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    1. Them's the breaks, I guess. The hypemonster can be brutal. I know. I always appreciate an honest opinion, even if it's less than stellar. Moderation and all that. I did try to steer clear of spoilers so as not to ruin it for anyone going in. But that can make it hard to get down to brass tacks. Let me know what you think if you do give it a shot. I'd be interested.

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  8. I got this from Netgalley before your review but now I'm thinking 'should I even try this?' Either way, thanks for the review Ang.

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    1. Truth? Not worth your time. Just . . . no.

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  9. Dang it! It kills me when I see so much potential for a book, but it fails the mark. It looks like a fault I find very often with most authors is their inability to make the characters seem REAL. Sigh... Thanks for the great review, though! :)))

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    1. It's pretty painful when it happens, isn't it? In this case, it felt like the author was trying so hard to make them real that it spilled out over the top. Unfortunately.

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  10. Honestly? I'm kind of with Holly. After seeing so many countless reviews praising this one and calling it a must read, I did request it from NetGalley. But the truth is, I'm always a little scared of contemp anyway. It is so very much not my thing, and I very rarely enjoy anything in that genre as much as other people seem to. After reading your review, I feel like maybe this really just isn't my thing. Not sure if I'm actually going to read it or not. Glad you stuck your neck out on this one, Angie!

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    1. Sure. It's well nigh impossible to resist that consistent level (and fervency) of praise. But wow. Must read it is not.

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  11. Bummer. 500 pages is a lot for a ho-hum experience. Not sure if I'll give this one a go...maybe way way down on the list.

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    1. So many pages. So nothing happening. Bummer indeed.

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  12. Wow, and you stuck with it through 500 pages? Nice, honest review. Doesn't sound like my kind of thing - if I can't connect, I close the book.

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    1. I know, right? I just knew I wanted to review it, and I never review books I DNF. So there you have it.

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  13. I know I am wicked late to this party but I am really glad I came over here. Like you, I've read nothing but super positive reviews of this and I've just been wondering if it could really be all that many said it was. I'm not sure where the heck I'll fall on the spectrum. I really liked If I Stay/Where She Went though I sometimes look back and wonder why, as I felt kind of indifferent about the romance in Just One Day. I do love woodcutting, though;-) (well, when Ron Swanson does it)

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    1. Yeah, I couldn't say for sure where you'll fall. And no judging from me if you love it to itty bitty pieces. But I cannot recommend it.

      I <3 Ron Swanson.

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  14. It is kind of frustrating when everyone loves a book, but you don't. At least, I feel frustrated. I keep wondering what I missed that everyone else say.

    Although I didn't think The Sea of Tranquility was amazing, I did like it. It definitely isn't a favorite of mine, though, and it isn't one I would ever re-read. I saw it on a number of best of 2012 lists.

    Thanks for the honest review. I always feel good when I can express how I feel about something, especially when I didn't care for it.

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    1. It's an awkward place to be sometimes, yes. It's interesting you mention not re-reading it. That's a factor I always take into concern when I'm evaluating a book. If I would never re-read it, it falls dramatically. I know that's not the case for many readers, but it is for me. And this one is definitely one I will never revisit. Which is unfortunate as it struck true for so many.

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  15. I keep seeing this one around and it looks and sounds amazing but I'm so not a contemporary YA fan so I think I'm going to wait until all the hype around it settles. I loved your review though!

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    1. Yeah, if you're not into contemps I would not start here. Give RAW BLUE by Kirsty Eagar a try when you do find yourself in the mood.

      Thanks!

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