The Starboard Sea: Book summary and reviews of The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont

The Starboard Sea

A Novel

By Amber Dermont

The Starboard Sea
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2013,
    336 pages.

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Book Summary

A powerful first novel about life and death, friendship and love, as one young man must navigate the depths of his emotions.

Jason Prosper grew up in the elite world of Manhattan penthouses, Maine summer estates, old-boy prep schools, and exclusive sailing clubs. A smart, athletic teenager, Jason maintains a healthy, humorous disdain for the trappings of affluence, preferring to spend afternoons sailing with Cal, his best friend and boarding-school roommate. When Cal commits suicide during their junior year at Kensington Prep, Jason is devastated by the loss and transfers to Bellingham Academy. There, he meets Aidan, a fellow student with her own troubled past. They embark on a tender, awkward, deeply emotional relationship.

When a major hurricane hits the New England coast, the destruction it causes brings with it another upheaval in Jason's life, forcing him to make sense of a terrible secret that has been buried by the boys he considers his friends.

Set against the backdrop of the 1987 stock market collapse, The Starboard Sea is an examination of the abuses of class privilege, the mutability of sexual desire, the thrill and risk of competitive sailing, and the adult cost of teenage recklessness. It is a powerful and provocative novel about a young man finding his moral center, trying to forgive himself, and accepting the gift of love.

Published in hardcover in Feb 2012

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Dermont's prose glides across the ocean ... It doesn't matter if you don't know a spindrift from a seaboard - the language of sailing is lovely, both simple and elaborate, unexpectedly sexy and inexhaustibly metaphorical. [A]fter all its treachery and recriminations, The Starboard Sea is a novel about the exhilarating freedom of being young and in love with the world, in harmony with nature and with an irreplaceable friend." - New York Times Book Review, Eleanor Henderson

"The Starboard Sea is a touching, beautiful, and deeply wise novel, a hymn to the bittersweet glories of youth. You will be enthralled." - Justin Cronin, New York Times bestselling author of The Passage

"Vividly written. Dermont shows real spark in her sensual descriptions of sailing and her realistic depiction of the malevolent dynamics among sophisticated teens...." - Booklist

"Preppy murder mystery meets coming-of-age story - with lots of sailing." - Kirkus Reviews

"Insights are limited by Dermont's unconditional sympathy for even the cruelest characters, amounting to a reprieve for the poor little rich kids, whose spiritual loneliness redeems their offenses, no matter how grave." - Publishers Weekly

"With unflinching wit, Amber Dermont examines the harsh vicissitudes of life, and though the worlds she creates are often unsettling places, her sense of detail always makes for a pleasurable read. There is a vibrant lucidity to her language, a daring music… Her characters are simultaneously able to articulate their pain, pass judgment on their own behavior and pardon themselves for their transgressions." - Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize and Orange Prize winning author of Gilead and Home

"In this affecting debut novel, Amber Dermont reveals herself as a writer of striking and abundant talent, sounding the depths of her narrator through his actions, yes, but even more so through the rhythms of his mind, so that you truly feel as if you are inhabiting his life along with him." - Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Illumination and The Brief History of the Dead

"Amber Dermont's beautiful first novel explores just what it should: the dangers and joys of emergence into adulthood. Dermont has an extraordinarily observant eye and an elegant voice, and she illuminates particular aspects of her world - sailing, gender, class - with intelligence and compassion. Brava for this impressive debut." - Roxana Robinson, author of Cost and Sweetwater

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Lauren C. (Los Angeles, CA)
Nice character study
I thought the author did a good job of getting inside the thoughts of her main character. I was particularly impressed that unlike most books about teens that either have them talk and act like adults or like children, this one seems to really have captured that age (17) of being close to a young adult but not quite there. The character alternates insightful thought and considerate actions with thoughtlessness and stupidity.

This isn't a book where a lot happens, but I thought that it captured the atmosphere of a Massachusetts prep school and a kid from a dysfunctional family in New York. It kept me engaged.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Duane F. (Cape Girardeau, MO)
The starboard Sea
This book was full of suspense, insight and it was beautifully written. The author gave us real characters with situations that felt authentic and whose reactions were believable. Once I started it, I could not put it down. Teenagers often are exposed to their awaking sexual beings at exactly the same time as they are at their most vulnerable and are experimenting new adult feelings. Most often, they feel strongly and act irrationally, a dangerous combination. These teens must face the dangers of being able to act as adults without any concept of the consequences. Some fail, some succeed. I applaud Ms. Dermont for approaching such difficult topics with such a sensitive pen. She clearly sees the delema a young boy faces.

Jason has strong feelings for Cal, and yet he denies those feelings to point that Cal, having been rebuffed, commits suicide. Two lives destroyed, two families torn... He is then subject to expulsion from school and sent to another... where upon he meets perhaps, the love of his life, another trouble young girl who stands apart and bears to brunt of his fellow classmates humiliating taunts.

Both these young adults and their fellow students are on their own. Without any real rudders in their lives, they learn the hard way what choices we make as young adults will change the course of more than just themselves.

This book is written with such insight and tenderness with the unforgiving sea as an ultimate contrast to the indulgence of youth. I loved it!

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Jerry P. (Santa Rosa, CA)
The Rich are not Immune to Suffering
Amber Dermont, as other graduates of the Iowa Writers Workshop, has written a captivating first novel. I frequently reread many sentences to better digest the story and its characters. She clearly portrayed Jason Prosper's intense emotional pain, guilt and loneliness and vividly described how his self-absorbed family was clueless to his emotional pain. I cringed when I read the section where Jason's father hit him in the head with a folded copy of The Wall Street Journal as Jason was speeding on the highway.

Buried memories of my college experiences surfaced as I was reading the book. I remembered similar actions, not as intense and violent however, of fraternity brothers who had wealthy parents.

My only critcism is since I know very little about sailing and boats, I kept looking up nautical terms in the dictionary, interrupting the flow of my thought processes. I frequently regretted there was not a glossary in the back of the book and recommend one be in the next edition.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Laura A. (Jupiter, Florida)
The Starboard Sea -
I thought about this book even when I wasn't reading it and couldn't wait to get back to it to read more. The story speaks of privilege and youth and how each of us must in the end answer for the mistakes we make. The main character in the book, Jason Prosper, struggles with the death of his best friend and his cruelty to his friend his death. As he moves on with his life and begins to form another relationship, he has no idea what the cruel behavior of other young men will do to change who he is and the path of his life. I highly recommend this book.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Lucia S. (La Jolla, CA)
Not quite
If this book had skewed more to the murder mystery genre, perhaps I could have forgiven its poor character development, and been more compelled by the story. Or, if the characters had been written more deeply, perhaps I could have enjoyed it as the literary novel I was hoping it would be. As it is, it's a rather weak novel with weak characters that I just didn't care about, with a predictable and overly-dramatic "mystery" dragging it along. I'm giving it 3 stars because Dermont's prose is occasionally quite fine, so it's difficult to toss the book altogether. But on the other hand, that makes it all the more disappointing.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Jennifer F. (Saratoga, CA)
A Glimpse into Preppy Boarding School
Unfortunately, all the stereotypes are present in this unappealing novel from Amber Dermont. Expected vices and a genuine lack of empathy mark this work as just another peek into the exclusive but nasty world of exclusive boarding schools. Her characters are not sympathetic enough for the reader to care what awaits them. In general, an un-relatable novel, except for the very few readers who have inhabited this world.

...20 more reader reviews

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Amber Dermont received her MFA in fiction from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her short stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies, including Dave Eggers's Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005, Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope: All-Story, and Jane Smiley's Best New American Voices 2006. A graduate of Vassar College, she received her Ph.D. in creative writing and literature from the University of Houston. She currently serves as an associate professor of English and creative writing at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia.

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