An ALA/YALSA Alex Award Winner
I live in a world without magic or miracles. A place where there are no clairvoyants or shapeshifters, no angels or superhuman boys to save you. A place where people die and music disintegrates and things suck. I am pressed so hard against the earth by the weight of reality that some days I wonder how I am still able to lift my feet to walk.
Two and a half years after an unspeakable tragedy left her a shadow of the girl she once was, Nastya Kashnikov moves to a new town determined to keep her dark past hidden and hold everyone at a distance. But her plans only last so long before she finds herself inexplicably drawn to the one person as isolated as herself: Josh Bennett.
Josh’s story is no secret. Every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. When your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space. Everyone except Nastya who won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But as the undeniable pull between them intensifies, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.
The Sea of Tranquility is a rich, intense, and brilliantly imagined story about a lonely boy, an emotionally fragile girl, and the miracle of second chances.
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Read an Excerpt
The Sea of Tranquility
Fourth hour can’t come soon enough. I’m sweating already from sitting out in the sun at lunch, but there won’t be much in the way of air-conditioning in the workshop. When I walk in, I immediately feel at home, even though the space looks entirely different than it did in June. There aren’t tools and pieces of lumber on every surface. No carpet of sawdust covering the floor. No machines running. It’s the quiet that’s initially unnerving. It’s not supposed to be quiet in here, and this is the only time of year when it is.
The first couple weeks are a rehash of rules for equipment usage and safety procedures that I could recite verbatim if anybody asked. Nobody asks. Everybody knows I know them. I could teach this class if I wanted to. I throw my books down on the far corner worktable where I sit every year, at least during the time we’re expected to sit. Before I can pull the stool out from under the table, Mr. Turner calls me over.
I like Mr. Turner, but he doesn’t care whether I like him or not. He wants my respect and he has that, too. What he tells me to do, I do. He’s one of the few people who don’t mind expecting things from me. At this point, I think I’ve learned as much from Mr. Turner as I did from my dad.
Mr. Turner’s been running this program for as long as anyone can remember, years before I got here, when it wasn’t anything more than a cop-out elective. Now it’s one of the premier programs in the state. He runs it like a business wrapped around a master class in craftsmanship. In the advanced classes, our work raises the money for the materials and the equipment. We take orders and fill them, and that money gets filtered back into the program.
You don’t get into the advanced classes without going through the introductory levels first, and even that isn’t a guarantee. Mr. Turner only takes the students who live up to his expectations in terms of work ethic and ability. That’s how he keeps the upper level classes so small. You need his approval to get in, and in a school with overflowing electives around every corner, he’s still able to get away with it because he’s that good.
When I get to his desk, he asks about my summer. He’s trying to be polite but he knows me well enough that he doesn’t have to bother. I’ve been in one of his classes every year since ninth grade. He knows my shit and he knows me. All I really want to do is build stuff and be left alone and he allows me both. I answer in as few words as possible and he nods, knowing we’re done with the pretense.
“Theater department wants shelving built in their prop storage room. Can you head over there, take the measurements, plan it out, and make a list of what we need? You don’t need to be here for all this.” He picks up a stack of papers, which I assume are handouts on rules and procedures, with a measured amount of boredom and resignation. He just wants to build, too. But he also doesn’t want someone losing a finger. “Bring me what you come up with at the end of class and I’ll get you what you need. You can probably have it finished up in a week or so.”
“No problem.” I hold back a smile. The preliminary crap is the only part of this class I don’t like and I’ve just been freed from it. I get to build, even if it is just shelves. And I get to do it away from everybody else.
I scrawl my signature across the bottom of the waivers and hand them back to him. Then I grab my books in time to see a couple other kids coming in. There shouldn’t be many—probably only about a dozen or so students—in this section. I know everybody who’s come in so far, except for one person; the girl from the courtyard, the one who was watching me. She can’t possibly be in this class. She must agree, judging by the look on her face as she scans the room, taking in everything from the high ceilings down to the industrial power tools. Her eyes narrow just slightly with curiosity, but that’s all I see of her because this time she turns and catches me looking.
I watch people a lot. Normally it’s not an issue because no one really looks at me, and if they do, I’m pretty adept at looking away fast. Very fast. But damn if that girl wasn’t faster. I know she’s new here. If not, she’s made some drastic, unfortunate transformation over the summer, because I’m more than aware of most of the people on this campus, and even if I wasn’t, I’d remember the girl who comes to school looking like an undead whore. Regardless, I’m out the door about ten seconds later and I’m pretty sure they’ll have worked out her schedule before I get back.
I hole up in the theater prop room for all of fourth period, measuring and drawing up plans and material lists for the shelving they need. There’s no clock in here and I’m not ready when the bell rings. I shove the legal pad with my notes on it into my backpack and head out toward the English wing. I get to Ms. McAllister’s room and walk past everyone still milling around in the hallway, eking out every last second to socialize before the bell rings. The door is propped open, and Ms. McAllister looks up when I walk in.
“Aah, Mr. Bennett. We meet again.” I had her last year. They must have moved her up from junior to senior English.
“Polite as always. How was your summer?”
“You’re the third person who’s asked.”
“Nonanswer. Try again.”
“Still loquacious.” She smiles.
“I suppose we are both nothing if not consistent.” She stands up and turns to pick up her roster, and three stacks of papers off the top of the file cabinet behind her.
“Can you bring that desk up to the front for me?” She points at a lopsided desk in the corner of the room. I drop my things on a desk in the back and walk over to pick up the broken one to move it to the front. “Just put it there.” She motions in front of the whiteboard. “I just need something to put all of this on so I can talk.” She drops the stacks of papers onto the desk as the warning bell rings.
“You need a podium.”
“Josh, I’m lucky to have a desk with a working drawer,” she notes with forced exasperation, walking over to the open classroom door without missing a beat. “You fools better get in here before that bell rings, because I do believe in giving detention on the first day of school and I give morning detention, not afternoon.” She singsongs the last couple of words as a mass of students barrels into the room just before the tardy bell goes off.
Ms. McAllister doesn’t do bullshit. She’s not intimidated by the popular kids or the ones with the rich parents, and she doesn’t want to be your friend. Last year, she managed to convince me that there was actually something here that might be worth learning without ever once making me talk in class.
Generally, I have two types of teachers. There are the ones who ignore me completely and pretend I don’t exist and there are the ones who call me out and force attention on me because they think it’s good for me—or maybe just because it gives them some sort of control-freakish thrill to know that they can. Ms. McAllister isn’t either of those. She leaves me alone without ignoring me, so as teachers go, she’s damn near perfect.
She pulls out the doorstop just as Drew slips through the opening.
“Hey, Ms. McAllister.” He smiles and winks because he has no shame.
“Immune to your charms, Mr. Leighton.”
“Someday, we’ll recite poetry to one another.” He slides into the only empty desk, right in the front of the room.
“That we will. But the poetry unit isn’t until next semester, so you’ll have to stow your sonnets until then.” She retreats to her desk and pulls a yellow slip of paper out of the drawer and walks back to him. “Don’t be too disappointed. We do have a date tomorrow morning. Six forty-five AM. In the media center.” She winks back at him as she lays the detention slip on his desk.
Fourth hour shop class wasn’t so horrible. Mr. Turner didn’t pay much attention to me at all, which in a class of fourteen is pretty hard to do. He did check my schedule right off the bat to make sure I was in the right place and then asked me why they put me there. I shrugged. He shrugged. Then he handed it back, telling me I wouldn’t be up to speed with everyone else, but if I really wanted to stay, he could let me be an assistant or something like that. It’s obvious he doesn’t really want me participating, but I think I’ll stay. It’s a small class where I can probably be left alone, which is as much as I’m prepared to ask on day one.
I make it all the way through to fifth period before being faced with one of those inane get-to-know-you games in my suckfest of a music class—a class which I will soon be clawing my way out of by any means necessary. The teacher, Miss Jennings, a cute, twentysomething woman with a blond bob, pale skin, and hatefully perfect piano-playing hands, makes us sit in a circle. An elementary school, duck-duck-goose-style circle. This affords each of us the best possible vantage point for studying, and subsequently, dissecting one another. Oh, and getting to know each other, of course. That too.
As get-to-know you games go, this isn’t the worst I’ve endured. Everyone has to say three things about themselves and one of those things has to be a lie. Then the class tries to figure out which one is the lie. It’s kind of sad that I’m not actually going to take part in the game, because if I was going to play, it would be fairly awesome. I’m pretty sure I would hand over large quantities of cash to listen to my classmates and the adorable blond pixie teacher debate the possible veracity of each of my responses:
My name is Nastya Kashnikov.
I was a piano-playing prodigy who doesn’t belong anywhere near an Intro to Music class.
I was murdered two and a half years ago.
Instead, when they get to me, I sit stone-faced and silent. Ms. Jennings looks at me expectantly. Check your roster. She’s still looking at me. I’m looking at her. We have a weird staring thing going on between us. Check your roster. I know they told you. I’m trying to will her telepathically now, but I am sadly lacking in the superpower department.
“Would you like to share three things about yourself?” she asks as if I am simply a moron with no clue what’s going on around me.
I finally throw her a bone and shake my head as slightly as I can. No.
“Come on. Don’t be shy. Everyone’s done it so far. It’s easy. You don’t have to reveal your darkest secrets or anything,” she says lightly.
That’s a good thing, because my darkest secrets would probably give her nightmares.
“Can you at least tell everyone your name?” she finally asks, obviously not one to engage in a battle of wills. Her patience is running low and she’s covering.
Again, I shake my head. I have not broken eye contact with her, and I think it’s starting to freak her out a little bit. I kind of feel sorry for her, but she should have read her paperwork before class. All the other teachers did.
“O-kaaay.” She drags the word out and her tone changes. She’s really starting to get annoyed now, but then, so am I. I check out the dark brown roots coming through in her hair because it gives me something to focus on while her head is down, scanning what I assume is the class roster on a clipboard in front of her. “We’ll use process of elimination. You must be”—she pauses, her smile wavers just a little, and I know this is where it clicks because she’s all sorts of aware when she looks back up at me and says—“I am so sorry. You must be Nastya.”
This time I nod.
“You don’t talk.”
Reading Group Guide
These suggested questions for Sea of Tranquility are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Various clues are presented to point to the fact that Nastya Kashnikov is not Emilia's real name. What are those clues? Did you pick up on them as you were reading?
2. At the beginning of the novel, Nastya has chosen to return to school. Considering how antisocial she is, why do you think she makes this choice?
3. As the book progresses, we learn how the injuries to Nastya’s hand result in the loss of her ability to play the piano. In what ways does this loss affect her? In what other ways do the injuries to her hand affect her?
4. The themes of art and creation come up in many ways throughout the novel. Which characters are artistic? What role do you think that ability plays in the formation of their identities?
5. At one point Nastya says that she does not want to be dead, she just feels like she should be. Why do you think she feels that way? Do you think her feelings are valid?
6. Nastya explains that she doesn’t dress the way she does because she particularly likes it. Why does she dress this way? What does she hope to accomplish? Is she successful? How do you feel about her decision?
7. Nastya is drawn to Drew from the moment they meet. Why do you think this is? How would you describe their friendship? Did you ever suspect that their relationship might turn into something more?
8. What does the Sea of Tranquility represent in the story? Does it have more than one meaning? How does it tie-in to Nastya’s obsession with names?
9. At seventeen years old, Josh has lost every member of his family. How does he cope with those losses and his resulting grief? Do you think his response is natural? How do you think you would react under similar circumstances? Have you known anyone who has experienced this level of loss? If so, how was their reaction similar or different?
10. How did the alternating viewpoints enhance your understanding of the characters? How do you think the story would have been affected if told from only one point of view?
11. Nastya never explains when or why she began collecting names. When do you think she began? Why do you believe she started this hobby? Do you think she continues it beyond the close of the book? Do you believe that names have deeper meaning?
12. What are the driving forces behind Nastya’s compulsive need to run? She explains that one of her therapists referred to it as a “healthy outlet.” Do you believe it is?
13. Toward the end of the novel Nastya discovers that Josh has slept with Leigh. Why do you think he made that choice? Did it change how you felt about him? Was Nastya’s reaction to that discovery what you would have expected? How do you think you would have reacted?
14. Why did Nastya feel the need to stop talking? Do you feel her choice was justified? Do you think you would be able to remain silent for more than a year knowing that you were physically able to speak?
15. How did the attack on Nastya affect her relationship with each of her family members?
16. Neither Josh nor Nastya wants a relationship with the other, but they each have very different reasons for feeling this way. What are those reasons? Do you believe they are valid?
17. Nastya writes the details of her attack in a series of notebooks every night before bed. What purpose does this serve for her? Was it effective?
18. Nastya forms relationships with three boys over the course of the novel. How do her friendships with Clay, Drew, and Josh vary? What purpose does each serve in her life?
19. What does Nastya mean when she tells Josh she’s “ruined?” Why does she believe this about herself? Does her statement have multiple meanings? If so, what are they? Do you agree with her assessment?
20. Why does Nastya choose to cover up what transpired with Kevin Leonard at his party? Do you think her choice and her reaction to the situation fit her character? Did you agree with her decision? What would you have done?
21. Aidan Richter turns himself in after his confrontation with Nastya at the gallery. What do think drove him to do that? Do you think Nastya regrets not attacking him and getting her revenge when she had the chance? Do you think she forgives him? How did you feel when she saw his painting of her hand?
22. “The dream of second chances” becomes a recurring theme throughout the novel. Which characters receive a second chance, and in what way? Do you believe Aidan Richter gets a second chance? Does he deserve one?
23. Before the details of Nastya’s attack are revealed, what did you believe had happened to her? What was your reaction when you learned what had actually occurred? Did your feelings toward her character change once you learned the truth? If yes, how so?
24. Nastya and Josh have life histories that result in them both seeming wise beyond their years. Yet in some ways they are still naïve and inexperienced. In what ways does each seem older than an average seventeen-year-old? In what ways does each seem younger?
25. In contrast, Drew has grown up somewhat sheltered. How do you think that affects the maturity of his choices and reactions?
26. The story leaves off with Josh and Nastya in his garage together. What do you think happens next? What does the future hold for them?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I’m going to admit that this book wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. I thought it wasn’t going to be my style. I thought it wasn’t going to be good. I thought I wasn’t going to like it. I blame this on the synopsis. It doesn’t do the book justice. It should say something like “This book will tear your heart out and put it back together, but you won’t ever be the same.” or maybe “This isn’t merely a love story, it is an amazing, rich story with deep and unique characters that will steal your breath and make you feel absolutely everything there is to feel.” This book was amazing. It was beautiful. It was heart-breaking. And it was hopeful. It had this and more, so much more. Nastya has had her spirit crushed and her body broken, but she still goes on. She doesn’t live though, not until she meets Josh. Their lives intertwined and they were never the same. Both of them are broken, both of them feel they are hopeless, and both of them will leave you in shreds when they tell their stories. This story was an emotional rollercoaster. It had its highs and its lows, it took me through loops and had many twists I didn’t see coming. I want to re-read this all over again, now that I know the whole story, to catch the things I didn’t catch before. Looking back at the clues that were left there so when the whole story was revealed I was left to admire the author’s handiwork. The author planted pieces to the puzzle that we didn’t know were pieces until the whole puzzle was solved. She’s as amazing with words as Josh is with woodwork or Nastya was with a piano. I loved the plot. I didn’t expect a lot of the things that happened and honestly did not know if things were going to end up happy. Normally I would hate this, but I knew that things weren’t going to be resolved easily for them. It wouldn’t fit and honestly I would have been disappointed if they were. I think that the book ended perfectly. The ending was truly, honestly, and amazingly perfect. Those last two words. Oh my God, those last two words. My heart stopped right there and I knew right then and there that this book is going in my favorite books of all time. Actually, that’s a lie. I knew that it was going to my one of my favorites of all time way before that. It’s that good. You guys know those books you’re torn between recommending them to the whole world so they can read the beautiful story you’ve read and never telling anyone so you can hold onto it because it’s yours and you want it to keep being yours for ever and ever? That’s me. I want to shout about this book on the rooftops and want to never tell anyone and just clutch it to me so it never leaves my side. Honestly, though? Go read this book. You won’t regret it. The characters and so deep and profound and broken that you will love them forever and want to re-read this book for all time.
Have you ever read a book where you didnt want it to end? Where no other book will be the same? Where you cant even try and read another book until you recover? This is that, and more
Resonated deeply with this book, and had to make myself "take a break" many times. I just couldn't leave this story, untill I finished all of it. Please read....
5++ stars! An absolutely amazing book and very well written! It has been a few days since I have finished it and I am still thinking about it. I will be re- reading this, there is no doubt!
There are no words...except the ones in this book that are waiting to be read by YOU!!!
I just read this book for the third time. It is my favorite. It is beautiful and tragic and moving and hopeful. No other story has ever touched quite the same place in my soul. I’ll never stop re reading this story. Love!
I have re-read this book a couple of times and each time my heart breaks for all the characters and I find myself wanting to help with the healing process for Nastya and I occasionally and myself telling her to not be scared of love and kindness and hope but of course she couldn't hear me. I love how the olauthor made this book with other situations. I mean the ones who needed to get a second chance at life did. I wish the book had gone on further to see what the reaction to the last words were but it I can't complain to much about the ending since it was bittersweet. I'm an avid reader who lives rereading everything I like. And I love this story. Please read it and find out for yourself how good this book is.
I have read this book over and over again and I have yet to be disappointed!
The Sea of Tranquility did not live up to my expectations. I had heard so many great things about this book, but surprisingly I had no recollection of what it was about before I started listening to it. Nastya is new in town. She’s come to live with her aunt after some sort of horrific attack on her life. She was a concert pianist, but she can no longer play because her attacker crushed her hand. Josh Bennett keeps to himself. He lives alone because his parents are dead, and his grandfather is dying. They’re both damaged, so they develop a unique relationship. This book was just too drawn out for me. I couldn’t stand how Nastya wouldn’t tell Josh what happened to her (and by association, then I didn’t know exactly what had happened to her). I’m not a fan of the slow-burn contemporary YA romance, and that is essentially what this was with some family drama and emotional issues thrown on top. That’s not to say that I hated the book. I didn’t. I like Nastya and Josh, and some parts of the book were enjoyable, but it was just too long. Too slow. And much too angsty for my taste. I wanted there to be more plot than just the love story. http://opinionatedbooklover.com/review-the-sea-of-tranquility-by-katja-millay/
This book is so good! Highly recommend.
THE SEA OF TRANQUILITY was one big set of contradictions for me. I loved how Nastya's response to her trauma was handled on the page, but I had a lot of mixed feelings about how the trauma story arc ended. I liked that Josh wasn't a stereotypical angsty bad boy, but his emotionless behavior sometimes felt at odds with his in-book experiences. I didn't necessarily believe that Nastya's history would've remained a secret from everyone at her new school either, especially in the social media age when she didn't even leave her state. The reason I gave this story five stars had less to do with the strength of its plot, and a lot more to do with the strength of its characters. Every last one of them--from Nastya and Josh, to Nastya's family, to Josh's friend Drew, to Clay the artist--completely drew me in. I was anxious to keep reading even when the story moved slowly, because I cared about the people involved. They felt real and fragile and they mattered to me, even when they were cruel or selfish or made dumb mistakes. In spite of my plot concerns, I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for Katja Millay's next book.
Just don't even think about it and buy it. YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED. I am the pickiest reader ever so trust me when I say that this book? WORTH IT.
A very touching story, have your tissues ready!
I loved it -- I wasn't sure I would since it was categorized as young adult, but it was great. It was very fast reading. I could not stop reading about the relationship between the two main characters. Amazing and definitely five stars.
This book is beautiful. One of my favorites. It will show you about what it is like to be different and open your mind to why people are the way they are, why they dress the way they dress. People all get through things differently and this book shows that in many ways. It is unexpected and very powerful. I recommend it to all and especially those who may feel like they're alone in the world, this book will show you how similar yet different we all are.
This book blew me away. i can't even remember why i bought it, but i absolutely fell in love with it, and have since told all of my literary friends to read it. Aside from the fact that the ending is badass(down to the last page!), the lead character is a beutifully strong girl just looking to find herself again after a tragedy. love, wit, and triumph in a very real and heartfelt setting made this book impossible for me to put down or even read just once. her love interest is great by himself, but the two together make for a couple you root so hard for your chest aches. this novel turns in a few directions you dont think it's going towards, but the rewards are well worth the trip. this is a novel i will always remember.
Loved this! One of the best I've read this year! Need tissues.
Rating: 4.5 Three sentence review: I loved that there was buildup to Nastya and Josh's friendship and, ultimately, love. The Sea of Tranquility is full of tragedy, healing, emotion, and so many beautiful words. This is such an incredible book and if you're looking for a realistic romance that isn't all rainbows and sunshine, look no further. You can read all of my reviews on my blog, KDH Reviews.
We just started a book club, and this was our first choice. Let me tell you...if this is the type of books that are going to be picked, then I am a lifelong book club member. I loved this book and have recommended it to everyone I know that reads. It captured my attention and I could not put it down.