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Bending the Spine

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review: The Starboard Seas by Amber Dermont

JASON PROSPER grew up in the elite world of Manhattan penthouses, Maine summer estates, old-boy prep schools, and exclusive sailing clubs. A smart, athletic teenager, Jason maintains a healthy, humorous disdain for the trappings of affluence, preferring to spend afternoons sailing with Cal, his best friend and boarding-school roommate. When Cal commits suicide during their junior year at Kensington Prep, Jason is devastated by the loss and transfers to Bellingham Academy. There, he meets Aidan, a fellow student with her own troubled past. They embark on a tender, awkward, deeply emotional relationship.
When a major hurricane hits the New England coast, the destruction it causes brings with it another upheaval in Jason’s life, forcing him to make sense of a terrible secret that has been buried by the boys he considers his friends.
Set against the backdrop of the 1987 stock market collapse, The Starboard Sea is an examination of the abuses of class privilege, the mutability of sexual desire, the thrill and risk of competitive sailing, and the adult cost of teenage recklessness. It is a powerful and provocative novel about a young man finding his moral center, trying to forgive himself, and accepting the gift of love.
320 pages
Published February 28th 2012 by St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 0312642806 (ISBN13: 9780312642808)


Though unable to relate to the overindulgent upbringing of the cast of characters, what I could relate to is the feelings they experienced.  Feelings of invincibility, self-loathing, pride, indecision.  Jason wears these like a banner waving in the wind.  He internalizes them also, but bears them vibrantly for the reader to evaluate their own feelings against his story.  To become so entwined with him that they are not two separate yet equal beings, but the reader and Jason become joined, their emotions inseparable and indistinguishable.

There is so much pain.  Sometimes unbearable to the point of being unsure whether I could carry the yoke of this book.  Glimpses of joy perforate the solemnity, providing rays of hope in an otherwise dark tale.  Sorrow is Jason’s scar, one that he carries as Atlas shrugged under the weight of the world.  A sorrow that seeps into the soul of the reader.  Yet there is little comfort to be found—for Jason or the reader.  There is not a magic silver-lining.  One can only hope to persevere, not overcome.

I finished this book and sighed, “Oh my goodness.”  Nearly in tears, and glad for the reprieve of having finished such an intense, emotional book.  My heart aches and yearns for better things to come.  For justice, for peace, for hope to prevail and for life, in all it’s bitter glory, to go on.  There are so few books that move me to near-tears, and this one did.  I had my qualms with The Starboard Sea, yet I have been moved and changed.  A little part of myself shattered, and reshaped.  I cannot imagine how this book could not affect someone immensely.  To enlarge the heart of it’s reader to increase love, to embrace the hurting, to mend the broken.

If there was a way to insert the feeling of a standing ovation to this review, I would, for Amber Dermont deserves one.

5 Trees

Get to reading,

*This book was provided to me by the publishers through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

About the author

Amber Dermont is the author of the novel, The Starboard Sea, and the short story collection, Damage Control, both forthcoming from St. Martin's Press. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Amber received her PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Houston. Her work has recently appeared in American Short Fiction, Crazyhorse, Open City, Tin House, TriQuarterly, Zoetrope: All-Story and the anthologies Best New American Voices, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Worst Years of Your Life and Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform. She is the recipient of a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and currently serves as an Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia.


  1. I just keep rereading this magic book. It's painful. And I wish there were a sequel telling us Jason will be fine. But as it is is perfect, too.

    1. It is so beautiful in that it is so heartbreaking!


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