The Starboard Sea: A Novel - Amber Dermont Rules of conduct are flexible for rich kids, and never more so than at Bellingham, a co-ed prep school for misbehaving teens who have been booted out of more prestigious academies. In her debut novel, Amber Dermont revisits the zeitgeist of the Reagan era through the eyes of Jason Prosper, a senior who lands at Bellingham in 1987 following the suicide of Cal, his best friend and sailing partner.When Jason arrives at Bellingham, he is full of secrets and emotional baggage involving Cal's death, his parents' faltering marriage, and his own sexuality. The school provides an atmosphere amounting to supervised juvenile delinquency, where "if you could pay, you could stay." Many of the students devote more energy to sailing, sex, hazings, and substance abuse than to academic pursuits.Jason falls in with a gang of kids who seem to practice delinquency almost as an art form or a religion, and they do it with the insouciance of the indulged. Not for them the grief or consequences that plague the rest of us. At least not on the surface. Sometimes that manufactured mischief is a front for an anguish that has no other outlet. And when Black Monday hits in October, some of them learn they're not as immune to reality as they'd imagined themselves to be.In the enigmatic Aidan, Jason finds a confidante, but she's a damaged and troubled soul. Rumors and speculation swirl around campus about her history and her violent tendencies. After a hurricane batters the East Coast, Jason is left with questions about Aidan's capacity for harming herself.Ultimately this is Jason's story of managing grief and guilt while examining some questions of ethics involving his friends, his brother Riegel, and his parents' generation. In a larger sense, it spotlights the ways in which privilege supersedes societal strictures and the whispers of one's conscience.The Starboard Sea is quite a remarkable debut novel. Dermont's dialogue and characters are real enough to be both entertaining and disturbing. Beautiful sailing and stargazing imagery abounds. The one weakness I would cite is the way the novel ends. Secrets are revealed, the school year is over, and the story is finished. With so many serious considerations introduced throughout the book, the end feels abrupt and leaves hazy the author's intentions for the story's message. Highly recommended, nonetheless. [4.5 stars]