A Horrible Roadmap for Surviving Trauma: Katja Millay’s The Sea of Tranquility (2017 Reading Book #42)

“You say things like that all the time that make absolutely no sense! Like you want me to know something, but you won’t tell me, so I’m just supposed to pick up random clues and figure it out. Guess what? I can’t. I can’t figure it out. I can’t figure you out and I’m getting sick of trying.”–Josh Bennett from The Sea of Tranquility

This quote summarizes my experiences and feelings reading this novel. This is one of those POV-character-keeps-secrets-from-the-reader novels. I’m not super fond of this, because I feel distanced from the POV characters and at times, it feels like a cheap plot device. I was very frustrated with all the secrets. While I understand that this is part of Nastya’s journey, I think it really impacted the narrative in a way that I didn’t like that much.

There was a lot of problematic stuff in this novel–toxic masculinity, slut shaming, the almost rape, how females were discussed and treated, Nastya’s loss of virginity, the discussion of sex. I think these things were meant to be problematic because of Nastya’s trauma and the anger and hate she felt toward herself and others that didn’t fall away until the final chapters. However, many of the other characters also parroted these beliefs and behaviors, which made them seem okay. Likewise, there was a lot of toxic masculinity and reliance on gender roles for these teen characters that I didn’t like. I wish there were instances of characters pointing out these behaviors and saying “that’s not healthy.” That didn’t arrive until the end, and still, some behaviors were never questioned or called out.

For me, the novel didn’t get interesting until the final chapters when Nastya really started to take care of herself and see things as shades of gray rather than black and white. I wish that could have been explored more.

I never really connected with any of the characters and I struggled to figure out where I was in the timeline of the plot as there were large jumps between scenes and we didn’t see a lot of stuff that I thought we would see. And often the scenes that we did see felt like fluffy in-between moments that you’d more likely read in a fanfiction of these characters. There was a lot of internal monologues and minimal conflict, so that I found it very boring at the start.

The moment between Josh and Nastya that contains the title reference felt very weak and forced to me. The intended prophetic-ness of it didn’t come through. Likewise, that moment of depth seemed out of place because there weren’t any other moments where the characters approached the world and their problems from that angle. I also wished “the sea of tranquility” could have been revisited at the end as a way to measure how Nastya changed/grew over the course of the novel. Many of Nastya’s chapters started with very poetic thoughts, but since I didn’t understand/know what had happened to her, they came across as very vague and rather melodramatic.

The possessiveness that Drew, Josh, Clay, and Asher showed toward Nastya felt inappropriate at times and made me feel like she didn’t have much agency. She felt more like an object than a person.

I didn’t like the rapist’s backstory and his “reason” for what he did. I didn’t feel like enough attention or time was given to how what he did or the guy at the party almost did was okay in any way. That’s not how you respond to trauma. That’s not how you treat other people. The rapist was slightly called out for his “reason” not being a good enough excuse for that behavior, but I never felt like the wrongness of that was fully expressed or explored.

I have a lot of qualms about how Nastya’s response to her trauma was shown. I think that’s partly because so much was kept from the reader. If we knew from the get-go what had happened to her, then I think there would be more context for her behaviors and the readers could see that her choices were not good ones. As is, it came off as a lot of hate, especially toward females. I really wish there had been some better or any female friendships in this novel.

My biggest concern is that readers who have survived traumas will use Nastya’s behavior throughout most of this novel as a roadmap for their own recovery instead of seeing healthier ways (which she arrives at in the final chapters) to taking care of themselves and moving on. Or even just parrot some of the toxic beliefs and behaviors espoused throughout this story. I also worry that this story romanticizes messed up people and dating messed up people who really need to take time to figure themselves out before they get into a relationship. I was pleased that Josh wasn’t her savior in the end and they realized they needed to put themselves ahead of their relationship.

Mostly, this just wasn’t the story of recovering from trauma that I hoped to read. I think the narrative tactics largely caused unhealthy, toxic behaviors to go unchecked and seem okay unless you can recognize yourself that they aren’t okay.


In Summary:

Title(s): The Sea of Tranquility

Author(s): Katja Millay

Overall Rating: 2/5

Genre: YA

Category: Fiction

Format Accessed: iBook

Imprint: Atria Books

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Trigger Warning:  Sexual Assault

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