Note: The Sea of Tranquility was initially self-published. It was well-reviewed by book bloggers, and picked up by a mainstream publisher, the Atria imprint of S&S, which will issue a paperback edition in June 2013. The version I read was an advance copy of the Atria edition.
The Sea of Tranquility is narrated in the first person, alternating between Josh Bennett and Nastya Kashnikov (not, as we learn eventually, her real name). Josh is seventeen; following the death of his mother and sister in a car accident when he was eight, and the subsequent death of his father and grandparents, he has been emancipated and lives alone.
A former piano prodigy who has suffered a terrible trauma, Nastya has come to live with her aunt Margot and begins attending the same high school as Josh, where she does everything possible to alienate people. Most significantly, Nastya doesn’t talk; she hasn’t spoken out loud to anyone in over a year.
Despite, or perhaps because of, Nastya’s silence, her handsome and charming classmate Drew becomes attached to her, and occasionally drags her out to parties. After she gets too drunk at one of them, he brings her to his friend Josh’s house for help; though they don’t hang out at school, Drew is Josh’s only close friend.
It’s not rocket science to see where the book is headed; though both Josh and Nastya are closed off to others, afraid of being hurt again, they are attracted to each other. (This setup practically begs for a voiceover: Will they share their secrets and help each other heal from past hurts? Will they learn to love again?) Though there is little real suspense, I found the characters compelling, and the book strangely hard to put down; Josh and Nastya certainly do have chemistry, and Nastya’s backstory is eventually revealed through a coincidence that doesn’t feel too contrived.
The author follows Rule #1 of YA novels (and fairy tales): get rid of the parents. Josh’s parents are dead, and Nastya lives with her aunt, but Margot is a nurse, and their schedules rarely have them home at the same time. Nastya has little contact with her parents and her brother, Asher, except for a couple visits and a few necessarily one-way phone calls.
In terms of genre, I’d call it literary fiction/YA romance; it has some dark scenes and heavy themes, but the characters are 16-18 years old and much of the book takes place in or around the high school or the characters’ homes. The writing is good, and if it’s sometimes melodramatic, well, so are teenagers. Though I was skeptical, I definitely enjoyed The Sea of Tranquility, and would read more from this author.