Thursday 23 February 2012

The Starboard Sea: A Novel by Amber Dermont

blurb from netgalley
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.


In some ways it was a relief to have fallen. To have fucked up only to land softly, cushioned, as my dad reminded me, “by a goddamn safety net of your parents’ wealth.”

Following his best friend, roommate and sailing partner, Cal’s suicide, Jason is devastated and a series of events leads him to be booted out of Kensington Prep. With the help of his father’s wealth and influence, he transfers to Bellingham Academy, a notorious co-ed prep school for kids who have failed at other more prestigious boarding schools. In a place full of reckless, wealthy kids who have nothing to lose, Jason finds comfort in Aidan, a girl from the West Coast who has skeletons of her own.

But it’s 1987 and all is not well. When a major hurricane hits the coast leading to an unforeseen tragedy, the stock market collapses, the cruelty inherent in Jason’s own classmates and the way class privilege blurs all sorts of ethical lines becomes obvious, Jason tries not to turn the other way like the rest. Dealing with his own bicuriousness, class barriers, race, divorce, suicide and the path to self discovery, The Starboard Sea is a beautifully paced novel with gloomy imagery of sailing and flying boats in the storm.

 I felt myself becoming a cliché. The boy in trouble. The wealthy father. The school in need and willing to offer refuge. 
For me, all of the second chances I’d been given had created opportunities for me to tell another lie about myself.

Jason Prosper felt like just that, a cliché until his earnestness and willingness to face things head on crept up on me. I felt no sympathy for him in the first few chapters of the book but as more of the back story was artfully revealed and the tone of the story grew more urgent, I felt myself listening to him and his quest to deal with everything going on around him the right way. For me, that’s what made the book so well written. The perfect pacing, the incredibly real characters, the back story that was heartbreaking and the attention given to the backdrop, the heart and soul of the story: sailing and the ocean.

“It’s the waves you need to worry about, not the winds,” he’d [Cal] always say, and he was right. Winds could knock a boat around, but a wave could seize the ship and blast her open.

I could go on and on about the characters, how real they felt and how disturbing their actions were. Or the setting, which was perfect and the themes which were dealt with marvelously. Most of the issues were far from resolved towards the end of the story and the weight of all of Jason’s bitter realisations could still be felt. In some ways, The Starboard Sea reminded me of Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld though the sheer breadth of what The Starboard Sea covers outweighs Prep. Comparisons have been made to A Separate Peace, but I’m yet to read A Separate Peace, so I’m not sure how far it lives up to the comparison.

What I know is that despite not knowing that much about sailing or the 1987 stock market collapse, it was easy to get lost in The Starboard Sea. I felt one with the characters, their dilemmas and their life of privilege that seemed both great and terrible in so many ways. I fell in love with Amber Dermont’s writing style and way of storytelling, so much so that I’ll blindly pick up anything she writes after this! If you cannot get enough of coming-of-age boarding school novels that keep your mind reeling, The Starboard Sea is for you.

Publication date: 28th February, 2012
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Source: NetGalley

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


  1. This sounds like a dark captivating read. I shudder to read sometimes about privelages kids throwing it all away. I will definitely look into this one. You did a great job on your review Pooja!

  2. Hope you check it out! Darkly captivating describes it perfectly!

  3. The only thing that I get is that people with money strive to get more money and use it to control others. Is that really it, people with money becomes powerful? I believe that kids with rich parents end up becoming too spoiled and it isn’t good. I do hope that parents can see that because that could lead to their downfall.


HI. Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment. :)