Cynthia's Reviews > The Starboard Sea

The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont
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's review
Mar 19, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: myfavorites
Recommended to Cynthia by: Madeline
Read from March 26 to April 01, 2012

One of the themes of this novel is bullying. It starts on page 4, as our narrator, Jason Kilian Prosper, describes playing tag with his older brother, Riegel. (I have never met a Riegel and I can't say that I want to.) Here Jason is speaking with his mother at their summer home in Maine as they drink champagne mixed with grapefruit juice:

"'We used to play tag. Chasing each other, then forcing the loser into the wig.' Riegel had made up this game as a way of torturing me. A brittle net material covered the inside of the hairpiece, and my brother the bully liked to pull it over my nose and push the scratchy lining into my face. The suffocation became my own definition of blindness. Not an absence of light, but a prickling concealment. A rough and painful mask."

Most of the novel takes place at Bellingham Academy. Jason the narrator explains that Bellingham has its perks.

(page 5)"Most of us who found ourselves at Bellingham had been kicked out of better schools for stealing, or having sex, or smoking weed. Rich kids who'd gotten caught, been given a second chance, only to be caught again and then finally expelled. We weren't bad people, but having failed that initial test of innocence and honor, we no longer felt burdened to be good. In some ways it was a relief to have fallen. To have fucked up only to land softly, cushioned, as my dad reminded me, 'by a goddamn safety net of your parents' wealth.' Bellingham offered us sanctuary, minimal regulations, and a valuable lesson: Breaking rules could lead to more freedom."

The world of trust funds, vacation homes, prep schools, competitive sailing and connections is foreign to me and completely fascinating. The closest brushes I've had with this world Jason lives in were when my high school boyfriend went off to Stanford and described his new friends to me. My daughter Madeline went to a private college and described women in her class who were debutantes. Amber Dermont teaches at this school--Agnes Scott College. She was one of Madeline's creative writing professors.

Jason comes from a world of privilege but unlike many of his classmates he sees the warts and knows that money can vanish like the wind, can be lost like a dear friend.

Jason has lost Cal, his best friend. On page 270 he is thinking about Cal, but sailing with Race, a new "friend." "Each time the boat began to turn, I released the jib, positioning myself windward, trimming the sails. Race relaxed his body against mine, and though we shouted rallies of orders and agreements in urgent, curt voices, from time to time we'd catch each others eyes and smile, as if to say, 'Can you believe how lucky we are? Could anything in the world be as much fun?'"

Like I say to my girls all the time, do you girls have any idea how lucky you are?

Congratulations Ms. Dermott on a fabulous first novel. I loved every single page.
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