The Sea of Tranquility
Tragedy is indiscriminate. It may strike anyone at any age and completely change one’s life and outlook. This novel about a boy and girl on the cusp of adulthood contains a real and emotional description of loss and grief and the bonds they create between people.
Josh Bennett has known a lot of loss in his brief seventeen-year life. He lost his mother and sister years ago in a car accident, then his father to a heart attack, and he has lost his grandmother as well. Now his aging grandfather has moved into a hospice ward and is about to leave him too. A loner at school, with the exception of his friend Drew, Josh has his attention captivated by the new girl with the Goth look, Russian name, and slutty clothing.
Nastya Kashnikov has no interest in friendships either. She keeps people at a distance with her ridiculous look and refusal to speak. Having borne her own tragedy, Nastya has the physical ability to speak, however she does not do so for complicated reasons. She is inexplicably drawn toward her fellow outcast Josh though, and they form a tentative bond with one another as Josh creates handmade furniture in his garage while Nastya watches.
The reader is not fully aware of what has happened to Nastya initially, only that she has faced tragedy in the past and it deeply affects her currently. Her past experiences are revealed slowly, piece by piece as Nastya works through those events and their fallout. She connects with Josh, but trusting him with her secrets is difficult for her. She begins communicating with him and letting him into her life slowly. He knows there is something huge in her past, but accepts what she is willing to share with him and doesn’t push her for answers. I love that he accepts her as is and that she is finally able to let down her guard with him and be more herself than the act she puts on for others. Their relationship is sweet and mature beyond their years.
The reactions Nastya exhibits to the violence in her past were genuine and well done by the author. A college professor once advised me that people who have been victims of violent attacks frequently go through a period of distrust, not even trusting their friends. Nastya possesses the guardedness that I would expect from someone in her situation. And though Josh is a stranger, he is the calming, non-threatening influence she needs to begin to allow people back into her life.
Though the protagonists are young, the dark themes of the story make it feel like a much more “adult” read. One of my favorite, most heartbreaking lines of the novel is: “That’s the irony of Josh and me, and it shames me every time I think about it. He has no family. No one to love him. I’m surrounded by love and I don’t want any of it. I piss all over what he would thank God for, and if I needed more proof that I have no soul, then there it is.” What I most appreciated about the story is that love does not magically cure Nastya or Josh. It goes a long way towards healing them, but they still need therapy and plenty of time to work on their relationship with one another, which I believed to be a genuine and honest resolution to their conflict.
While I loved that the romance unfolded slowly, the story is quite long and seemed to plod along in places. I found myself wanting to skip ahead occasionally due to the lack of action. But the superb characterizations kept me reading well past my bedtime and I enjoyed spending time with Nastya and Josh.
The Sea of Tranquility is the author’s first book and I hope we as readers are treated to many more to come.