Jason Prosper is a rich kid in boarding school, a new one for his senior year as he has been invited to leave his legacy boarding school after his roommate commits suicide in their dorm room. The Starboard Sea is a beautifully written and sensitive account of Jason’s struggle to deal with the suicide—the roommate was his lifelong best friend and sailing partner—as well as his attempt to remake his life in the Bellingham Academy, a New England prep on the ocean with a fiercely competitive sailing team of its own.
Amber Dermont knows her way around the politics of prep school and invests her book with a bounty of authentic details to bring that rarified world to life. The students are a slightly more polished Lord of the Flies crew. Lots of drinking, boasting, venomous bullying, casual sex, rule-breaking and exam-sweating happens in-between people climbing up and down fire escapes and in and out of dorm windows of the opposite gender. But that’s all backdrop for the serious heart of the story. The kids are privileged, obnoxious, eccentric and casually vicious. Jason is actually a likeable kid who connects with an odd girl who doesn’t know if her real father is Robert Mitchum and keeps Fred Astaire’s tap shoes hanging in her room.
Parents pull out fat wallets to buy advantage and amnesty from consequences, seniors apply to the family ivy league college with every assurance of acceptance, weekends in Cambridge and elsewhere involve penthouses, mansions, fabulous art collections, European sports cars, vintage motorboats, name brand liquor and limitless drugs. Personal relationships need plenty of strategic management and there are long memories for perceived betrayals and transgressions. Jason is an exceptional sailor, generous friend, guilt-ridden survivor and spoiled second son with parents who are divorcing. Aidan, the girl who begins to redeem him from the nightmare of his relationship with his suicidal roommate, suffers her own demons as she tests, and then trusts, Jason.
A hurricane and a horrible accident blow Jason’s fragile world apart again and he blames himself for a second tragedy. When a slip in conversation clues him to a darker secret behind a death in the school, he turns his tactical brilliance to getting at the truth. The Starboard Sea is filled with sailing lore, rounded characters, suspense and emotion. The language is striking, the imagery is cinematic, the intelligence is visible and the story is both moving and memorable. I couldn’t put it down–stayed up past 4 a.m. to finish it
The Starboard Sea: A Novel Amber Dermont | St. Martin’s Press 2012