Review: The Sea of Tranquility; Katja Millay

The Angst! The Angst! (3 stars) 

Source: review copy

Atria Books (Simon & Schuster)- 5th September 2012

I reviewed the Kindle edition which was 380 pages.

When a book has as much hype around it as this one does and is a continual five-star rating over on Goodreads from just about everyone, I can’t help feeling a little bit guilty when it doesn’t float my boat.

The good news is that I didn’t hate it. It’s a solid three out of five stars from me and I actually feel bad for that in a way, because even though this novel was beautifully written and the premise sounded amazing, I just didn’t fall in love with it in the way I’d anticipated.

Damn Goodreads hype.

This is the story of two damaged souls; former piano prodigy Nastya has arrived in a new high school to start afresh, yet casts immediate ‘back the hell off’ auras to just about everyone. The fact that she also refuses to talk and wears an armour of makeup, teeny mini-skirts, lethal spiky heels and seems full of rage might have something to do with the fact that almost everyone avoids her like the plague. Then there’s Josh Bennett, a boy who has enough problems of his own to contend with yet can’t help being intrigued by Nastya.  Inexplicably, the two teens are drawn to one another, but can they help each other heal?

To be honest, I’m quite surprised that this is billed as a novel for young adults, though perhaps that does explain why maybe I didn’t ‘get it.’ Really, this is a novel for young people? With all of the coarse (and I mean coarse) profanities, strong references to sex, drugs and the violence? Despite the warnings of mature situations within this book, I have to say, if I was a parent I would definitely have doubts about my young teenage son or daughter reading this novel. There are a lot of mature situations in here that I think can only be comprehended by kids in their late teens.

I had more than a few issues with this novel, not all of which are worth over-analysing here as I do tend to ramble on for a while. Ahem. The primary reason it didn’t resonate with me however was that I just didn’t feel the teenagers ‘voices’ sounded remotely realistic. When a seventeen year old boy sounds more articulate and uses words that a well-educated politician wouldn’t even contemplate within his every day speech (or within his internal monologues, even), then I must confess that it bugs me slightly. Nastya’s voice too clearly fell within those parameters. I’m not saying that teenagers can’t be loquacious, but the whole of their peer group also both sounded and acted a lot more mature than I would have expected.

The other massive fault I had with this book was that it just dragged on for far too long (the summary does suggest that it is ‘slow building’ but jeeeeez….) and some bits felt really repetitive- drugs, alcohol, parties, Sunday dinner parties, jogging around the block till you throw up, bit of woodwork in the garage… I could go on but I don’t think I need to. As a result of this constant repetition, by the time Nastya’s troubled past was finally unveiled (after it was alluded to via little breadcrumbs scattered all the way through) I wasn’t particularly shocked, though the event in itself was disturbing (if that makes sense). I think that it had just taken so long to get there as a reader that by that point I was actually past caring.  I was bored if I’m honest. Yet by contrast, the actual resolution of this book seemed to be over far too quickly once what had happened to Nastya was revealed. The plot felt unbalanced, and I really dislike that in a reading experience.

One of the redeeming features within this book was the character of Drew, who starts the book as something of a man-whore, yet when you get to know him, he has a warm heart and is a caring friend. I loved the connection between he, Nastya and Josh. Through the rest of this book though, I felt that I couldn’t really get to know the secondary characters on anything more than a superficial level as so much focus was on Nastya and her misery. I don’t mean to sound so cynical, but this story had so much potential and for me personally, it never actually amounts to anything.

Though I think the author should be commended for tackling some gritty situations, the overriding impression that I will take away from this book is that it is an emo-charged, overly-long, pessimistic melodrama which is absolutely fine if that’s what you’re looking for (and perhaps expecting)… only in this case, I wasn’t. It’s actually left me feeling quite miserable, and with Christmas fast approaching I am now off to seek out something decidedly less bleak to cheer me up.

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