The Starboard Sea
High school senior Jason Prosper is down to his very last chance. After being kicked out of Kensington Prep, he's on his way to Bellingham Academy, home to those who "had been kicked out of better schools for stealing, or having sex, or smoking weed." The students at Bellingham, Jason realizes, are "rich kids who'd gotten caught, been given a second chance, only to be caught again 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."
"THE STARBOARD SEA is a thoughtful, reflective look at the depths of feeling that lie beneath the sparkling surface of Jason's affluent world."
Rules are more a formality than a mandate at Bellingham. Student proctors look the other way when other students sneak out for assignations after dark, faculty mentors condone 15 minutes of pure darkness in the common room just before curfew, resulting in, as Jason observes, "arms and legs like a muscle of boa constrictors twisting and tightening around an opossum." Clearly, those who can buy their way into Bellingham's last chance resort enjoy a license for continued bad behavior. Jason's father has even donated enough money to have a building named Prosper Hall, so his prodigal son should surely be able to pursue a licentious lifestyle to his heart's content.
But the thing is, Jason doesn't want to misbehave. Not really. His heart is content --- for the most part --- to think back on the past, back to Kensington Prep and to Cal, a fellow sailor who was more than a friend. Cal's death tears Jason up, and it led indirectly to his expulsion from Kensington, where he couldn't imagine staying without his friend by his side.
Jason's reputation as a master sailor precedes him to Bellingham, but when he causes a near-fatal accident during his very first day of practice with the sailing team, Jason decides that without Cal, he's not fit to captain anything. The year is 1987, and sexuality is still a taboo topic, even among the relatively worldly teens who occupy the halls and yards of Bellingham. Admitting his feelings for Cal is something Jason can't do with just anyone, and revealing the extent of his heartbreak might even be dangerous.
The only one to whom he admits anything is Aidan, an elusive, quirkily attractive girl who gradually reveals her own troubled past to Jason. The two begin a hesitant relationship --- made more confusing by Jason's ambivalent sexuality --- until another tragedy falls into Jason's life and leaves him alone and questioning once again.
Amber Dermont's debut novel combines self-assured plotting with equally poised prose. The author's use of striking visual details is particularly noteworthy; her ability to place the reader directly in this world of pride and privilege is remarkable, given how far from Jason's world most of us live now. Some of the novel's figurative language (especially the heavy reliance on sailing metaphors and even the obvious meaning of Jason's name) seems a little heavy-handed. Overall, however, THE STARBOARD SEA is a thoughtful, reflective look at the depths of feeling that lie beneath the sparkling surface of Jason's affluent world.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on February 29, 2012
The Starboard Sea
- Publication Date: January 29, 2013
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
- ISBN-10: 1250023432
- ISBN-13: 9781250023438