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 by Amber Dermont X
The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2013
    336 pages
    Genre: Novels

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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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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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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!

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.

Bob S. (lawrenceburg, IN)

Voyage to the heart of light
I am a fan of first books--I find so many authors, including Jan Smiley and John Grisham, poured their authentic life into their first books and never surpassed them. Even if Amber Dermont publishes nothing else, "The Starboard Sea" is a gift for us all. She explores the heart's search for love, for forgiveness, for belonging with all the pain, joy, grief, and exaltation that journey involves. Jason steps through great love, devastating losses, and exalting triumphs searching fort hat rare treasure, his true self--something for which we all long and which so often eludes us. I know this young man in my heart and soul--I find myself here, and thank Amber for the light she gives.

Joyce K. (Conway, Arkansas)

The Starboard Sea
This story's setting begins by introducing us to the principal character Jason Prosper. He is entering into a new preparatory boarding school after being dismissed from another school despite his father's efforts to "bargain" for his retention. He has lost his best friend to suicide and is really struggling to deal with all the upheaval in his life.
The story deals with a number of themes of young adulthood including sexual conflict, fraility of relationships with both female and male friends, abuse of privilege and morality issues.
I enjoyed the book. I did not think it was a fast read but I thought it was a good read. I liked the way the story unfolded and was not bothered by it's occasional diversion.
My bookclub has read several first time authors. I think this book would be good for adult readers and young adults of mature age. Some of the themes would not be suitable for a young reader.

Arden A. (Lady Lake, FL)

The Offspring of the Privileged
This first novel, by Vassar graduate Amber Dermont, is a coming of age story for the advantaged, as opposed to the disadvantaged. No bootstraps to be pulled up among these kids. There are butlers to do that. It is a very well-written story, with flowing prose, and the characters are well-depicted, if somewhat hard to love. The novel takes place at a New England Boarding School, the school of last resort for obnoxious, over-indulged rich kids who have been kicked out of every other boarding school.

If this review sounds conflicted, it is. I enjoyed the book a lot, but have a hard time accepting the behavior of these kids, and accepting that adults running the schools can overlook or condone some of the acts, which border on evil. But then, it is fiction. There are any number of sub-plots here, and if you are a sailing enthusiast, there are fine descriptions of racing. Overall, The Starboard Sea is a good read with twists and turns and sexual identity issues. . .more than enough to keep you interested and guessing until the last page.


Roses with the thorns!
The artistry and intellect of Amber Dermont has me feeling a bit out of my league when it comes to reviewing her work. Through “The Starboard Sea”, I experienced a gorgeous landscape of reflections, insights, observation, emotion and passion, accessed through a thorny path of cruelty, narcissism, confusion, cynicism and compromise. I found myself bursting out in laughter on many occasions and there was sudden and unexpected sobbing in one spot. I found myself repeatedly underlining remarkable sentences and paragraphs.

More than a little of the book masterfully ushered me into the beauty of sailing; though I am not at all a mariner, the passion transferred very well. I found much of the coming-of-age sexuality of the young men in the story, understandably, unrecognizable. The ambivalence as to orientation explored, the private thoughts, the horsing around and jokes often seemed non-male and not real. It is a very ambitious thing for a woman to take on to be sure! Grief and loss are lovingly and artfully plumbed to their many-faceted depths. Being a widower, I found myself aching for the author as this level of understanding doesn’t come via any means other than mainline trauma. Interesting how very little there was to admire in all but a few living characters in the book (“The Lords of Discipline” comes to mind). The deceased Cal, anyone could have loved. I fell in love with Aidan. This is a book I will buy in hard cover and keep. I am confident that it is a novel that will yield more with another read… or two. Read the book and remember that I did warn you about the thorns!

...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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