The Wednesday Review: The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

The Wednesday Review is my pick for the book you absolutely, positively have to read this month. They run the gamut from literary fiction to romance, but they all have something in common: beautiful language and a story that sinks its claws in and won’t let go.

I wish I’d read this book earlier.

I wish this book had never ended.

Two and a half years after her world turned black and shattered, Nastya moves to a new town, determined to keep her vow of silence and her past hidden. She figures it’ll be easy: dress like a hooker, ignore everyone, and glare at the idiot who steps too close. Then she meets Josh, and her determination falters.

Josh may be the only person more broken than her. Everyone close to him is gone. The other students give him a wide berth. And he’s just as intrigued by Nastya as she is by him.

I love a good, angst-y read, as long as the angst makes sense. The Sea of Tranquility has angst. Buckets full of angst. Angst that makes plenty of sense and without it, the story wouldn’t be the compelling and compulsive read that it is. Nastya is angry. She is angry at her family, at her friends, at her old life for staring her in the face and taunting her with what she can’t have. Josh is more resigned. He could give two shits about the people around him because everyone who matters is gone, long gone in some cases, and he won’t let anyone in because they’ll just leave, in some form or another, and he’d rather be alone.

The two of them make up a sort of therapy for themselves. Josh is a carpenter who loves designing and building furniture. His garage workshop is his haven, and one night, out for a run, Nastya invades his safe place. This is how she gets to him. She comes back, again and again, boosting herself up on one of the counters and swinging her legs back and forth, back and forth. More of these nights pass by, with Josh measuring and cutting and sanding, Nastya watching from her spot on the counter. Then she gives him a gift: he’s the first person she’s spoken to in over a year.

Their relationship grows by inches until they’re so fully entwined it’s hard to tell where their old lives ended and their new lives start. Josh’s garage workshop becomes their place, where they work side by side, marking, measuring, sanding, with Josh teaching Nastya and Nastya pestering him with questions and demanding he explain everything he does. Josh gives Nastya some of his secrets and in return, she gives him what she can, all the while warning him not to fall in love with her.

Silly. The heart wants what the heart wants. There’s no stopping it.

I love Josh. I love him for not pushing Nastya for her secrets, for trying to save her when she clearly doesn’t want, or need to be, saved. At one point, he yells that he doesn’t want to fix her, like everyone else in her life. He wants to fix this, whatever this is, this broken thing between them. Because at the time he’s yelling at her, whatever forward progress they’ve made has taken leaps backward. If they were broken before, they’re irreparable now, and despite the gaping canyon between them there’s still a bond holding them together. But there are still secrets and unforgivable things keeping them apart, and you wonder if this is how it will be for them, knowing they had that one, shiny love and lost it, and have to spend the rest of their lives striving for contentment and happiness without the other.

The closer I got to the end, the faster I read, and the more I wished there were more pages left. But Nastya and Josh’s story ends in exactly the right place, and to end it any other way would have been a disservice to this brilliant, beautiful story. It’s the perfect kind of ending, with a hope firmly grounded in reality. It’ll take time, and anger, and forgiveness, but there’s no doubt Josh and Nastya will figure out how to build their futures, and when they do, they’ll be as lovely as the furniture Josh creates.

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