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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Debut novel about class privilege and intrique
What I liked the most about this book was the setting at a New England boarding school for wealthy, privileged teenagers. Just reading about the advantages these students had due to wealth and their family name was pretty fascinating reading. However, we soon learn that no amount of money can protect you from dangers.

Set in the 1980's, this is the story of...
Published on March 2, 2012 by bookreader "Melanie"

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64 of 72 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fine writing, troubling characters - 3++
I had some difficulty analyzing this coming of age story. First time author Amber Dermont spins a good story--much of this one episodic and in narrative. By that I mean, the book has a good flow and evokes the setting well. There are some wonderful passages about sailing, the ocean, nature, etc., which are clearly subjects that the author knows well and loves. Where I...
Published on December 6, 2011 by Blue in Washington


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64 of 72 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fine writing, troubling characters - 3++, December 6, 2011
This review is from: The Starboard Sea: A Novel (Hardcover)
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I had some difficulty analyzing this coming of age story. First time author Amber Dermont spins a good story--much of this one episodic and in narrative. By that I mean, the book has a good flow and evokes the setting well. There are some wonderful passages about sailing, the ocean, nature, etc., which are clearly subjects that the author knows well and loves. Where I had some issues with the book was in its characters and overall message.

This is the tale of very wealthy--spoiled rotten, in some cases--mostly Waspy, prep school kids, often acting badly. Secondarily, it is the also the story of the parents who have spawned these kids and by their own bad behavior and criminal deeds have launched a successor generation that is likely to be more toxic than their own. So how to you generate sympathy for this kind of character? Even the book's protagonist, Jason Prosper, is just barely an exception to the generally obnoxious group that he hangs out with.

My second qualm with the book is how it raises some heavy duty subjects--coming to terms with being gay, suicide, bullying, murder/manslaughter, racism, corporate fraud, abetting serious crime by persons of authority, etc. and never really resolves any of them with any finality or sense of justice. It may well be that the author's message is that none of these issues/problems/criminal behaviors would have been resolved successfully in the time period (1980s), but that's a bit hard to swallow, even in that go-go period, even with the privileged group that is the focus of the story.

This book may have started out as a straightforward 80s coming of age story, but with the introduction of the very serious themes mentioned above, it became something quite different--much darker and much more difficult to bring to conclusion. For all of its problems, the writing in "The Starboard Sea" is insightful and even quite beautiful at times. This is an author to watch.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Polished prose wasted on contrived plot, March 5, 2012
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This review is from: The Starboard Sea: A Novel (Hardcover)
The Starboard Sea tries to do many things and doesn't fully succeed at any of them. Amber Dermont's assured writing style kept me reading to the end, but her high quality prose is largely wasted on a contrived plot. I made no intellectual or emotional connection to the story or any of its characters. The novel's first half is predictable and dull while the rest is only moderately interesting, ultimately leading to the sort of blockbuster revelations that are designed to shock. Unfortunately, since Dermont didn't convince me that the story or characters were real, the revelations did not have their intended effect. To the extent that the novel illustrates the obvious truth that people with money and power often escape the consequences of their bad behavior, the lesson is less than profound. I give Dermont credit, however, for avoiding a happy ending that might have pleased readers while making the story even less realistic.

Having been expelled from Kensington Prep, Jason Kilian Prosper spends his eighteenth birthday driving his father's Cadillac to Bellingham Academy, a school that will happily forgive his transgressions provided his father contributes to the school's building fund. Before the sun sets, Jason has a moment with a beautiful girl who is staring into the ocean. The reader knows that Jason is destined to meet her again and that she will play a significant role in the novel.

Prosper is recovering (or not) from the death of his best friend and Kensington roommate Cal. Prosper feels guilt about certain circumstances involving Cal, the sort of machination authors create to add emotional heft to a character. When Aidan (the beautiful girl) says she'd like to be a photographer's light meter so she would "know for certain whether people were giving off light or taking light away," the author is again laboring to imbue a character with depth when, in the real world, Aidan's audience would fall down laughing at her preposterous comment. Only infrequently does any of the dialog in The Starboard Sea have the ring of realism.

In addition to being self-absorbed, Prosper is self-aware to a degree I didn't find credible. Teenage boys do not describe their own behavior as "careless in the most deliberate way." They do not say "I slept well that night because someone had been kind to me." They do not tell their friends at the end of the school year, "We've taken good care of one another." A teenage boy might say "I cared too much about everything" as a means of impressing a girl, but Prosper actually means it. For that matter, teenage boys do not look at a beautiful girl and think that her face has "a quiet authority" that says "I am not to be put on display" and they do not worry about the pressure prep school girls might feel "to pigeonhole themselves." Prosper's introspection and relentless self-analysis quickly becomes overbearing. This is a coming of age novel about a kid who already thinks like a forty-year-old.

A huge error of logic becomes apparent in the novel's final pages (I can't reveal it without spoiling one of the revelations) that shouldn't have made it past the first edit. The novel is otherwise cohesive and internally consistent.

Devotees of Hollywood gossip and/or sailing might appreciate this novel. Prosper loves to sail (except when he hates sailing) and knows all there is to know about wind, while Aidan knows more than most people need to know about Robert Mitchum. Fans of debutantes and old money prep schools might also be fascinated by the story Dermont tells. I felt distant from it; nothing drew me into Prosper's world. Although I'm normally a sucker for literary allusions, the attempt to draw parallels between Prosper and Herman Melville failed to resonate. Equally silly is an earnest discussion of racial sensitivity, complete with allusions to Hemmingway and Samuel "Chip" Delaney (a family friend of the novel's only black character).

I admired Dermont's writing style and appreciated her ability to set a scene. Readers who can set aside their skepticism about the authenticity of the story and characters, readers for whom strong writing is enough, will likely enjoy the novel more than I did. I hope Dermont writes another novel, one that is less contrived than The Starboard Sea, because I would like to give her another chance.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Debut novel about class privilege and intrique, March 2, 2012
This review is from: The Starboard Sea: A Novel (Hardcover)
What I liked the most about this book was the setting at a New England boarding school for wealthy, privileged teenagers. Just reading about the advantages these students had due to wealth and their family name was pretty fascinating reading. However, we soon learn that no amount of money can protect you from dangers.

Set in the 1980's, this is the story of Jason Prosper. He transfers to Bellingham Academy after the suicide of his close friend and sailing partner, Cal. Blaming himself for his death, Jason is unable to forgive himself or move forward. Despite being unsure about his sexuality, Jason begins a relationship with Aiden, a mysterious and troubled girl who also attends Bellingham. With her he slowly begins to deal with Cal's death.

However, Jason soon faces another tragedy which pretty much leaves him questioning everything he knows. Meanwhile he is surrounded by irresponsible, often mean spirited students who have never really had limits. This added mix of "no consequences" due to the power of class privilege makes for one great read.

I really enjoyed this book, this is a gifted writer. It all felt very authentic and look forward to more from this author.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a dark and thought provoking read, March 29, 2012
This review is from: The Starboard Sea: A Novel (Hardcover)
We meet Jason on his 18th birthday, a hot August day spent traveling with his distant father to a new boarding school. His laments are those of the privileged- driving his father's mammoth Cadillac, worry about his future in sailing and forced camaraderie with other wealthy "screw-ups". Initially, there isn't much reason to care about Jason, and even less reason to actually feel sympathy.

That soon changes as Jason begins to peel the layers away and reveal his true self. Full of worry and shame, he vacillates between trying to be invisible and trying to be an active part of his world. He just cannot decide where he belongs...until he finds Aidan. Can he really show himself to Aidan? Does he really know who he is?

Just when you think you know where things are headed, the game changes. What was a prep school memoir becomes a quest for what is right-Jason's own starboard sea.

My verdict: Read it! Trust me, you will not want to put down this book. This is a great discussion book, as the end is (I think) a bit ambiguous. This is a book with legs, I predict you will see The Starboard Sea in a movie theater near you.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life with the privileged "mess-ups", February 27, 2012
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Neal Reynolds (Indianapolis, Indiana) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Starboard Sea: A Novel (Hardcover)
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The fascinating edge to this novel, to me, was the setting not just at a private school, but at such a school catering to kids who somehow messed up at more prestigious schools. Therefore, not only are these somewhat spoiled brats, but spoiled brats with, in some cases, quite dark secrets.

All this is relayed to us in lyrical prose by a quite talented and able authoress, one I hope to encounter in future novels. This isn't a perfect novel. I found my mind wandering at a few points. But basically, this is a coming-of-age novel to read and to experience.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking and memorable first novel, February 29, 2012
This review is from: The Starboard Sea: A Novel (Hardcover)
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I picked up this book mostly because of my interest in Northeastern boarding schools and what could broadly and imprecisely be called the preppy lifestyle. But what kept me reading was author Amber Dermont's ability to tell a good story in a distinctive voice and with interesting and enigmatic characters.

The most interesting and enigmatic of those characters is our narrator, Jason Prosper. He struck me as a very mature and insightful observer of his situation, yet at the same time susceptible to very adolescent -- sometimes very unpleasant -- urges and desires. Jason frequently seemed to live behind an emotional veil, at once strongly affected by a whole string of tragedies around him, but still commenting with a kind of distance from what should be very powerful reactions. If this book were set today, instead of in the twilight years of the Reagan administration, I might suspect our narrator was on Prozac. If he's not quite the Holden Caulfield of a new generation, Jason is certainly a memorable character. His actions, observations, and motivations could generate a great deal of thought, discussion, and debate were anyone so inclined.

Other reviewers have commented on the author's engaging and lyrical language, and I have nothing to add to that. Although I've never been much of a sailor, I could feel Jason's (and Amber's) love of wind, wave, and canvas.

I gave "The Starboard Sea" four stars in part because I can't bring myself to give any debut novel five stars -- save I guess for "Catcher in the Rye" as alluded to above. I'll definitely keep an eye on Amber Dermont, however, because she clearly has the potential to be a five-star novelist. And if any of her future works update us on Jason Prosper, so much the better.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deft evocation of 1980s school life, May 21, 2012
By 
T. Weed (Putney, VT United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Starboard Sea: A Novel (Hardcover)
I was captivated by this book. I found it compellingly readable, a horrifying story in many ways, but one redeemed by a protagonist who is basically a good guy, and certainly capable of learning and evolving as the story goes on. It's got an evocative atmosphere, and really captures something about what it was like to go to school in the 1980s. I think the overall theme or message is fascinating too, and original in my experience: There's no such thing as a clean break. You can't help but remain "steeped in the triumphs" of your classmates and those you associate with, no matter how unpleasant or odious they were, all your life. Particularly true in the age of Facebook, no doubt. This novel isn't perfect (what novel is?) - Dermont occasionally over-explains and there are a few awkward passages - but overall it's a very worthwhile read.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic writing, ambiguous subject, March 26, 2012
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R. Alembik "Baudelaire" (DECATUR, GA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Starboard Sea: A Novel (Hardcover)
Ambiguous morals, sexuality, and allegiances characterize the ruling class. This novel examines one member's quest for a fixed "star" by which to set his sometimes treacherous course. Yes, it's an old theme, but set against the backdrop of Black Monday it is more like version 3.0 or maybe 3.1 of the concept. The sign of a great book is that one can't get it out of his or her head without mentally scraping away more layers of meaning. A day after finishing the novel, there are plenty of virtual "peelings" floating in my mental "wake." The book is getting better and better in retrospect. Worth reading just for the quality of the writing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read!, March 29, 2013
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Compelling characters - all so flawed, just like real people.
(Loved a fictional place where kids who have made bad choices
can come together to mess with one another!)
Great story and plot, interesting characters, well-written, good
timing, just an overall great read!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark, but worth the read., March 12, 2013
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Great book for a first time author. She writes in a beautiful prose. The book is set at a boarding school in 1987. I couldn't put this down. There is a bit of a mystery entwined in the plot. The main character must accept himself, his past, and how he plans to live in the future
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The Starboard Sea: A Novel
The Starboard Sea: A Novel by Amber Dermont (Hardcover - February 28, 2012)
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