The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont
Published by: St. Martin’s Press
Published on: February 28, 2012
Page Count: 308
Genre: Literary Fiction
My Reading Format: Hardcover copy I purchased for my personal library
Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook, and Audiobook
Amber Dermont’s debut novel examines the life of Jason Prosper, a privileged younger son of a man who planned only the greatest education for his sons. Unfortunately, Jason ran into a spot of trouble with his long term roommate and sailing partner during his junior year at Kensington Prep. Returning to his prestigious boarding school for his senior year was out of the question. This puts a damper on his college future, but his father is hoping that by sending him to a lesser boarding school along the Atlantic Coast that can be convinced to accept problem students. Jason begins his senior year alone in a single room questioning all that he’s assumed about life. An early year sailing accident makes him somewhat isolates him for the typical set of friends he would have otherwise made at Bellingham Academy. Instead, he finds his interest drawn to Aidan, probably one of the most troubled and talked about girls at the school.
I’ve long had an interest in novels and movies set in boarding schools. I can’t explain my fascination or remember quite when it began. There can definitely be a Gothic element to a story set in that location. This is definitely part of the charm. The Dead Poets Society hit me at just the right age, giving all things boarding school an extra edge for my attention. It was this edge that brought The Starboard Sea to my attention. I was innocently scrolling through my twitter feed when I saw @RebeccaSchinsky mention the title along with the words “boarding school” together. I ordered it almost instantaneously and couldn’t resist reading it the moment it arrived. Then, I had a really difficult time putting the book down. This novel delivered in every way I had hoped. I loved every minute.
I found The Starboard Sea to be an engrossing novel about family expectations and fluid sexuality. In many ways, Jason is dealing with issues he doesn’t have sufficient life experience to handle without a stable adult whom he can rely on for advice or even just a listening ear. Everyone around him is knee deep in their own crisis. So, when his father drops him off at Bellingham Academy, Jason is left alone both physically and emotionally. With no one to talk to, those feelings turn to a seemingly justifiable guilt. I may personally have little in common with Jason, and not just his privileged upbringing. I’ve never sailed a day in my life. It’s safe to say that all that I know about sailing came from Jason’s story. Still, I felt deeply connected to him. I wanted to knock on his door, listen to his story, and let him know that he was okay. When Aidan entered his life, I felt much better about his future. She was no older than Jason, but she had a wise soul. She, too, needed a steadying force in her life, but she was able to act as a lifehouse for Jason. She gave him some much needed perspective. Most importantly, she accepted him into her life just as he was. We all need someone like Aidan.
In addition to being fully invested in the novel, I found Amber Dermont’s writing perfect for story she was telling. Her writing gave Jason life and depth.
I could see that spark of gold glass in her eye and I understood now where it came from, what it could lead to. I wanted to be part of what she desired. Contrary to what Aidan believed, I had everything to prove. (pg 104)
The Starboard Sea also gave me a reading moment that doesn’t happen all that often. A moment where I stop reading because I’m too busy absorbing the language. I know exactly where I was and how I felt the moment I read this exerpt. What I loved the most about it is that the characters were inside my head and heart to the extent that I wholeheartedly agreed with Jason’s assessment of the scene of helicopters retrieving yachts following a hurricane:
I thought of my family’s Calder mobile, of the whale skeletons hovering from the the museum’s ceiling, of the Renoir seascape. All of these images coverged into the form of these flying yachts and their hidden helicopters. Aidan would have loved the sight. In a moment like this, there were so many beautiful and uncommon things worth saying. Aidan would have said them all, stealing this spectacle from the men who’d paid for it, making it her own. (pg 162)
The Starboard Sea is a worthy addition into the canon of boarding school literature. Okay, this canon may be mine alone, but I revel in it. If you enjoy fiction set in boarding schools, I highly recommend this novel. Actually, I highly recommend The Starboard Sea even if you do not otherwise seek out boarding school fiction. This will be on my Best of ’12 list. No doubt about it.