Millay does a great job setting up the mystery of Emilia/Nastya's past (and I'm just going to call her Nastya from now on, since that's what she goes by for the bulk of the book). From the very beginning, Millay hooked me into the story, and I had no choice but to finish the book. The first paragraph is incredibly dramatic, lighting a fire to discover who did this to her and whether she will succeed in killing him, the light of vengeance flashing in her eyes. Millay also does a great job of sustaining the forward motion through the book. I read it slowly, because it was my Nook book, for whenever I had downtime but no print books with me, but I was always excited to get to read a little bit more and to watch the story unravel.
I also think that, largely, Millay's writing is quite skilled. I highlighted several quotes throughout that spoke to me in their beauty or their wisdom. Though I make a habit of this, there aren't too many authors who get me to make note of that number of sentences. I applaud her for this, and on the wit and intelligence of the writing alone, I know I'll be reading whatever Millay's next book is.
What Left Me Wanting More:
However, much as I loved the writing on a basic level, I do feel like it has a couple of major weaknesses. First of all, Nastya and Josh's perspectives read exactly the same to me. Their narrations are the exact same amount of bitter and the same flavor too. They use the same sorts of derogatory terms to think of others and have a similar cadence to their thoughts, as well as matching desires to avoid emotional attachments and to respond sarcastically to things. Were it not for the helpful chapter headings, I would have been reliant on the narrator seeing the other character to figure out whose mind I was in. Though I did largely like the narrative voice, they were much too similar.
The second drawback to the writing, and the main reason I was rolling my eyes, is how damn angsty it is. Josh and Nastya could win an Olympics of angst. It's ridiculous. Honestly, I didn't have a good handle on what angst was before this book, and even asked Renae of Respiring Thoughts about it. NOW I get it, because they WOULD. NOT. STOP. Don't believe me?
"Maybe what he says should floor me, but it doesn't even make me blink. Maybe I should jump in immediately and tell him that he shouldn't think that way. That, of course, God doesn't hate him. That it's a ridiculous thing to believe. Except, it's not. Nothing about it is ridiculous. When you watch every person you love systematically removed from your life until at seventeen years old there is no one left, how can you think anything else? It makes such perfect sense that the only thing that surprises me is that I didn't think of it myself." (195-6
"People like Josh Bennett and I don't get perfect. Most of the time, we don't even get remotely tolerable." (289)
"Everything is hell now and I deserve it, but I can handle pain if it's pain of my own choosing." (336)
"'I figure the next time I want to completely destroy all chance of happiness, at least I'll remember doing it.' It'll make the self-loathing that much easier." (345)
"'The worst part is that I'm not even allowed to be angry about it, because it's my fault. Is that what you need me to say? That I know it's all my fault? That none of this would have happened in the first place if I wasn't determined to destroy myself and everyone around me? Fine. It's all my fault! Everything is my fault, and no one knows it more than me. We're all in hell and I'm the one who put us here." (368)
Keep in mind that that is merely a sampling. Like, I completely get that their lives have been largely terrible, what with Nastya's tragic past and Josh having lost all of his family (to death, not at the mall). Still, constantly telling me that they're NOT being over the top with their thoughts about how much their lives suck is precisely the way to make me think they are being over the top, because it makes me look closer. I mean, yeah, they had shitty hands dealt to them, but, goddamn, they are still children of privilege, and intelligent besides. Plus, for all their talk of being alone, they have friends (Josh) and family (Nastya) who care deeply about them; they're not as alone as they pretend to be. They don't begin to have it as hard as so many other people in this world that their constant moaning about how they weren't overreacting got seriously old.
Speaking of that angsting, if we cut that out, the book would be a way more manageable length. This book weighs in at 450 pages, and that definitely felt too long. I'm all for long books, but they shouldn't feel long; they should feel right. While I appreciate that she took time to set up the emotions, there's definitely space to cut things out and leave the emotional arc as is, though I would also cut out a few of the cheesier lines between Josh and Nastya that made me throw up in my mouth a little bit. I also thought the end dragged, the last fifty pages or so.
Some More Good Things:
All of those things aside, I really enjoyed reading The Sea of Tranquility, and did root for Nastya and Josh most of the time, pretty much up until they actually got together (wah wah). More than them, though, I liked Drew's family, who invites everyone over for Sunday dinner. Drew's parents are some of the best parents I've seen in young adult fiction, not just to their own kids, but to their friends as well. Millay took the time to develop the secondary characters, like Drew, his family, and Clay, which rounded out the book nicely.
The Final Verdict:
Despite some reservations, The Sea of Tranquility was an engaging read, one I was generally loath to put down. Millay has earned her way onto my list of authors to watch, though I hope to see a bit less angst in her next book.