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The Starboard Sea: A Novel Hardcover – February 28, 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 121 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Engrossing. . .Captivating and inspired. Jason is a fiercely likeable first-person narrator and romantic hero. The steady, restrained unmasking of Jason's history. . .is one of the novel's many achievements. But perhaps its greatest pleasure is the delight its characters take in the sea. Dermont's prose glides across the ocean. . .The language of sailing is lovely, both simple and elaborate, unexpectedly sexy and inexhaustibly metaphorical. Dermont writes about sailing with such precision and authority it's hard to believe she's not a salty old sea captain. She's as assured a writer as Jason is a sailor, coasting through the story with agility and grace. . .Dermont adeptly charts the fine calibrations of teenage love and shame and belonging.” ―Eleanor Henderson, The New York Times Sunday Book Review

The Starboard Sea has permanently parted ways with the predictable. 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.” ―Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Dermont draws the tony campus life in The Starboard Sea with an insider's hand. Dermont is a seasoned sailor, and readers in Annapolis will get a charge out of her exact, salty depictions of nautical rigging, knots, and gear. She also writes vividly about the strategy of sailing. One of the most refreshing aspects of the novel is Dermont's candid treatment of race. Jason has been compared to Nick Carraway for his sober narration and keen sensitivity to the decadence of his peers, and in more than a few instances The Starboard Sea feels like a distant cousin of The Great Gatsby.” ―The Washington Post

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

“Dermont has laid out her fine and beautiful novel like the star constellations she describes and the reader must chart his or her own journey through a rewarding and challenging narrative.” ―America Magazine

“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

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

“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

The Starboard Sea is a moving story of a young man coming to terms with who he is and what he has done. Dermont creates a powerfully real world. The sailing scenes are breathtaking, and the characters are complex and fully imagined. This is the debut of an enormously gifted writer.” ―Robert Boswell, author of The Heyday of Insensitive Bastards and Century's Son

“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

“Amber Dermont has conjured up a preppy hall of mirrors, filled with hauntingly complex characters, grand houses and borrowed art, privilege and paybacks, and friendship touched with malice. The Starboard Sea blends propulsive mystery, lost love, and mournful coming of age into something layered, wise, and completely riveting.” ―Michelle Wildgen, author of But Not For Long and You're Not You

The Starboard Sea is a beautifully layered novel with an authenticity that takes the reader beyond the clichés of rich preppies and exposes a world that is vivid, compelling, and heart wrenching. With it, Amber Dermont establishes herself as an exciting new American talent.” ―Mark Jude Poirier, author of The Worst Years of Your Life and Goats

“In a series of seemingly effortless strokes, Amber Dermont's Starboard Sea has brought to life one of America's great literary outcasts. Set adrift in a storm of his own making, Dermont's Jason Prosper takes us on a journey into the darker depths of our human capabilities. Damaged and dangerous, by turns as despicable as he is lovable, Prosper's voyage is a treasure from a writer of dazzling gifts.” ―Holiday Reinhorn, author of Big Cats

“Amber Dermont illuminates the bizarre and insular world of boarding schools in her debut novel The Starboard Sea, and her young narrator, Jason Prosper, is captivating. His is a unique voice, searching and full of heart. The Starboard Sea is sharp, funny, smart, and vastly entertaining.” ―Victoria Patterson, author of Drift (Story Prize Finalist) and This Vacant Paradise

About the Author

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 and is also the author of the story collection Damage Control.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (February 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312642806
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312642808
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,210,119 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Blue in Washington TOP 500 REVIEWER on December 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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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Format: 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.
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Format: 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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Format: 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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