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The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont
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The Starboard Sea

by Amber Dermont

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This is an interesting juxtaposition to The Secret History, which I finished reading just before I started The Starboard Sea. Both novels are concerned with issues of identity, shame, guilt, and violence both overt and subtle. Both are also examinations of how one devises his/her moral compass -- or sextant, in this case -- but whereas the former is obvious and tense, the latter unfolds so subtly. Dermont's voice, sparsely elegant and lush without being overwrought, suits the subject matter and plot perfectly. I enjoyed how moments from scenes that already happened would find their way into later narrative, as opposed to a straight, chronological-only style of storytelling. What a debut! I look forward to future Dermont stories. ( )
  cygnoir | Sep 10, 2013 |
I came close to reading 30% of this book and then I just got bored (I read those 80+ pages over one week -- that's slow progress for me). While I am interested in the backstory of both Jason and Aiden -- what happened to them to bring both to Bellingham? -- there wasn't enough to KEEP me interested. First, I don't care about sailing or the wind. I'm sure sailing and the wind symbolizes SOMETHING, but there are other books I want to read more. And sure I could keep slogging my way through the book, but instead I'll just read the reviews with spoilers and move onto to a book that holds my attention for more than one page at a time.

Sure it may not seem fair to rate it when I didn't finish it, but here's the thing: I gave it enough to know that it wasn't my cup of tea. It's an OK read, but I didn't like it enough to keep going: thus 2 stars.

I'm actually quite disappointed that I didn't like it more. The cover, the description, it made me think of A Separate Peace, but ASP kept my attention and this one simply did not. :( ( )
  melissarochelle | Apr 5, 2013 |
I was fortunate enough to receive this novel and three others from Constable and Robinson a few weeks ago. First published in the USA by St. Martin’s press – a new edition is due for publication in January 2013.
In the privileged world of the 1980’s super rich, Bellingham Academy is the last stop for those kids kicked out of other prep schools. On the day of his eighteenth birthday, Jason Prosper leaves his New York home with his father for Bellingham in New England. Jason is still nursing a raw grief for his best friend and sailing partner, Cal, who recently killed himself. At Bellingham Jason meets up with the sons and daughters of families he already knows – such is the insular world from which he comes, and he is immediately courted by the sailing coach. However an accident aboard results in Jason taking risks in order to save a fellow student and forces him to re-consider his desire to sail, especially now that he has to do it without Cal. Haunted by the death of his friend and the secrets he carries with him of the time before his friend died, Jason meets Aidan, a girl who he at first mistakes for a cormorant – standing arms outstretched on rocks by the sea. She is unlike anyone he has met before, and a fledgling friendship blossoms between the two. Aidan is a strange and beautiful creature, who owns Fred Astaire’s shoes and is not really a part of the group of friends that Jason has found himself attached to. The tender and emotional relationship that starts between these two ostracised young people is beautifully and deftly handled by the author. Chester, the only black student at Bellingham is also on the outside of those who are accepted, there is a quiet coolness to Chester that Jason notices right away and tries to befriend the young tennis player. However in the aftermath of a terrible storm, events take a tragic turn once again, and Jason numbed and disbelieving comes to re-evaluate the group of classmates he been spending his time with. Bellingham is a world where friendships are really alliances, Jason understands this world, understands what he needs to do to survive, yet at times seems happy to ignore these unspoken rules. Thus we see Jason playing pranks and sneaking out to party with the hedonistic youngsters of Bellingham Academy one minute, yet talking deeply and emotionally with Aidan the next. Prompted by Leo – who is a kind of servant to the rich kids – called “plague” by everyone else, Jason determines to find out what really happened on the night of a hurricane party that he missed.
In The Starboard Sea, Amber Dermont has re-created a world of selfish privilege and boarding school lore. Despite the title - sailing actually only plays a fairly a small part in the novel – but there are some beautiful descriptions of sailing and the sea, and I feel sure the author must have a love of the ocean herself. Dermont has packed a lot of fairly meaty issues into this novel, grief, suicide burgeoning sexualities, racism and class set against the backdrop of a storm lashed New England coast and the Wall Street crash of 1987. This is not entirely a faultless novel, it does take a while to get going, and there are times when Jason sounds rather older than his years, these though are small gripes and do not detract at all from the overall excellence of this beautifully written novel, for me there is far far more to recommend it. The writing is excellent the images created by the author will stay with me for some time. At various times this novel made me think of The Great Gatsby and The Secret History by Donna Tartt, although it’s not really like either of them, I know that’s confusing, but The Starboard Sea has an emotional quality to it that those works had too. This is a quite remarkable debut by a talented writer, who I really look forward to reading more of in the future. ( )
3 vote Heaven-Ali | Dec 14, 2012 |
The Short of It:

Deeply introspective and hard to put down. The Starboard Sea has something for everyone.

The Rest of It:

After a losing his best friend to suicide, Jason Prosper leaves the world of Kensington Prep, to attend Bellingham Academy, a rich, private school reserved for those who have had less luck elsewhere. His sailing ability allows him the mix and mingle with the “in” crowd but these students are all broken in some way and as he grieves for the loss of his friend, he meets and falls in love with Adrian, who is different from any girl he has ever met. His love for Adrian and who she reminds him of, is what forces him to deal with a previous indiscretion. An indiscretion that has held him captive since his days at Kensington.

What a fabulous book. This book surprised me. Mostly because I love books that feature a prep school setting, but not many can compare to A Separate Peace by John Knowles which happens to be one of my favorite books. The Starboard Sea has a little bit of everything…interesting characters, heavy themes and a main protagonist who is tortured by something he’s done. Very similar to A Separate Peace in that regard and probably why it appealed to me. What also impressed me, is that these students are much more complex than your average prep school students and not nearly as predictable. The author does a stellar job of revealing them slowly, layer by layer. Just when you think you know them, you realize that there is so much more to know.

The Starboard Sea is a book that reads easy, yet gives you plenty to think about. The story itself might appeal to younger readers, but I should note that there is casual drug use along with drinking and sexual references. Keep this in mind if you are thinking about giving this to a teen in your home.

For more reviews, visit my blog: Book Chatter. ( )
  tibobi | May 31, 2012 |
Everyone has a story. Browse through the Memoir section of your local independent bookstore, and you'll find hundreds of them. They'll give you a slant, a spin, an angle of each person's life, the way they would have you see it. Ask their friends, their business associates, and they'll give you a totally different story. You could even sit down with the person in question and listen to their life story, and you'll almost have a picture of the entire life, from the high-crashing waves to the calm eddies that hide along the shore. But always hidden deep within the cores of our being are the pearls of our lives, which we clamp shut, hold fast, and no amount of muscle will let anyone see it. They are secrets, desires, the very foundations by which we see the rest of the world. Every once in a while, a person will come along and dive deep down into our souls, and we will let them in. We will tell them our stories, showing our pearls and the sand from which they came.

The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont is just such a novel. It becomes a porthole into the inner lives of the characters, especially the main one, Jason Prosper, who, little by little, tell us all his story. Each character is fully developed, fleshed out, with words that are worth reading completely, not skimming over as part of "something every author has to do." The writing is lyrical, soothing, much like the seaside town that Amber Dermont is writing about. The frequent forays into yachting, racing with the upper class New England town boys that seem to have no problems or cares in the world are done exquisitely, giving the reader an opportunity to experience the thrill of riding on the open ocean without the boring details that, ironically as he tried to do the same, Melville used in Moby Dick. I think that if Dermont had written a book about the White Whale, I would have read enthralled from Ishmael to Ahab and through the Romantic landscape of the seas. Most of all, I enjoyed the intimate contact between Jason and Aiden, and with Cal through his memories, and with Chester and the rest. I do wish that we could have seen more of Jason showing Aiden the Pearls in his life, or the other times he let people into his inner "oyster," for lack of a better word. But we have to be content with the side glances of these, as we should never see these ourselves, (one of the distinct advantages of writing in the 1st person) since Jason is telling the story himself.

I've read many debut novels recently, as an employee of Borders, and I have always been impressed with the potential in each of these authors to become better, to write truly great literature. I look forward to reading the follow up to Ford's The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, but I realized, as I finished this novel, that Dermont is closest to achieving those masterpieces. I look forward to those as well. I only wish that she had taught the Creative Writing course I took in my small university in Georgia, as I would have learned much. I thank you, Dr. Dermont, for giving a window into how you write, how the stories are meant to be told, and only hope that more people will witness the sea the way you have written it.

Short Review: If Dermont had written Moby Dick, I would have relished every word. The foray into the world of New England boarding schools, with all the heartbreak and ecstasy, is done wonderfully. Jason Prosper navigates his way through love, death, and all the swirling eddies in between in this amazing debut novel. I hope it finds it's way to the top of all the bookstores' "Staff Picks" displays. I know it would mine. ( )
  DenzilPugh | May 21, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
This is not a strictly prep school story. Its secrets are not tacked on or contrived. It is a rich, quietly artful novel that is bound for deep water, with questions of beauty, power and spiritual navigation as its main concerns. The title refers not to the right side of a boat but to the right course through life, and the immense difficulty of finding and following it.
 
"Readers already intrigued by prep school, sailing, or bildungsromans may be interested, but most should wait for Dermont's next books. "
added by Christa_Josh | editLibrary Journal, Travis Fristoe (Nov 1, 2011)
 
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I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go in harm's way. -- Captain John Paul Jones
You know what you did. You know you know what you did. No one is hearing your ornate confession. -- Dan Chiasson, "Stealing from Your Mother"
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Devastated by the suicide of his prep-school roommate and disdaining the trappings of his affluent Manhattan life, Jason transfers to another school and bonds with a troubled classmate whose subsequent death compels Jason to uncover the truth, in a tale set against a backdrop of the 1987 stock market collapse.… (more)

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