Despite universal acclaim that piqued my interest and slowly wore me down into reading The Sea of Tranquility, I did not begin reading it expecting to be wowed. Contemporary YA, especially contemporary YA with a strong emphasis on romance, is as far away from being my preferred genre as Earth is from Gallifrey, which is to say, very far because Gallifrey is a fictional planet. I’ve often wondered why I fail to enjoy so many contemporary novels, and I think it comes down to this: it is immensely difficult for me to not hypercriticize them for how well (but usually poorly!) they capture the real world. With fantasy novels, a reader approaches the book with his or her belief suspended. I can critique fantasy for its worldbuilding, but I can’t exactly say, “But dragons don’t actually breathe fire! The one who lives in the apartment below me told me that’s a myth!” In fantasy, the author is certainly required to create a probable world, but it needn’t be a world guided by the same principles found in my earthly textbooks. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Returning to contemporary, however, I find that this same suspension of belief does not exist. When I read contemporary, I’m constantly on guard for situations and characters I deem unrealistic, and as a habitant of Planet Earth, where these stories take place, I’m perfectly qualified to label a contemporary novel as unrealistic. In most cases, this unreality comes from melodrama. I have mad love for Melina Marchetta, author extraordinaire of Aussie contemporary novels, but I’ve always found some of her scenes to be simply too much. Too over the top, too histrionic. Similarly, I adore John Green’s contemporary YA work, but I always close his books slightly annoyed by the fact that his characters don’t speak like actual teenagers. What I’m saying is I NEED contemporary works to feel real. I NEED to believe that these characters could exist in some corner of the actual world. Otherwise, I fail to connect and spend the bulk of my reading experience thinking, “Well that would never happen.” While reading The Sea of Tranquility, I was never distracted by that thought because it felt so realistic. There is a thread of truth to The Sea of Tranquility. As I followed these characters, witnessed their triumphs and failures, grieved for their pasts and hoped for their futures, all I could think is: “This is truly life.” The Sea of Tranquility represents living in all its glory and in all its horror. Life is hard and it is painful but it is living. Yet Millay never resorts to melodrama because she is intimately aware of the fact that life, despite all its troubles, rarely plays like a film. Life is full of small moments that unfold slowly and quietly, gradually building into big moments. The Sea of Tranquility examines how two young people recover from trauma, and it asks deep and important questions. But it does so casually, by developing the relationships between these lovingly drawn characters through realistic, small romantic moments. Even the secondary characters refuse to become caricatures. Drew, who is stereotypically described as a “Ken doll” in the first chapters, becomes surprisingly nuanced, like all teen boys, even ones who look like movie stars, verily are. Each of these characters is someone I could’ve known at high school; some of them are people I wish I knew in high school. Aside from a few writing qualms—I found Millay a bit prone to grotesque teenage male description at times, as evinced in Josh’s incessant references to his balls, though I suppose, again, that that is very realistic teenage male speak—I loved this book. I cried—but only a little!—I laughed, and I smiled. This tale was so true that I felt like I was rooting for two living people, two screwed up teens down in Florida trying to work it out. I have not been so invested in the triumphs of fictional characters for a long time. To finish, I’ll leave you with a quotation from the book in which a character describes a kiss. I think it serves as a fitting assessment of The Sea of Tranquility as well. And it isn’t perfect. It’s soft and warm and true and real.