The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi, was published in 1990 by Orchard/Scholastic.
In 1832, thirteen-year-old Charlotte Doyle is returning from her school in England to her family in America. Charlotte’s voyage takes place on the Seahawk, a seedy ship headed by a murderously cruel captain and sailed by a mutinous crew. When Charlotte gets caught up in the bitter feud between captain and crew, she winds up on trial for murder…and is found guilty!
I read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle once more than ten years ago and it stuck pretty well with me all these years. Though some of the details were muddled in my mind, I remembered very vividly one of the last lines in the book and the overall gist of the story.
It’s not that this book is particularly complex or amazing, which is usually the sort of book I remember well these days. It’s incredibly straightforward and simplistic, and Avi doesn’t leave a lot of time to develop much of the other characters beyond Charlotte. We don’t know much about anything about Charlotte’s family except that they’re pretty stereotypically Victorian upper-middle-class, which means they’re prim and proper and gasp in horror at their daughter’s adventures, and we don’t know or learn much about any of the crew members that Charlotte meets, except for Zechariah.
Yet somehow, it doesn’t seem to matter. There are no frills, no bells and whistles attached to this book. It is, as Charlotte herself will tell you, a detailed description of what happened to her—and it works, or at least it did for me. Though things happen quickly, they happen realistically. They make sense. Charlotte’s trust in Jaggery at the beginning of the book makes sense, as does her increasing unease, her heel-face-turn (and, subsequently, the crew’s), and her ultimate loyalty to the ship. I don’t even mind how it ends, because everything that came before it made sense.
I also think that Zechariah’s character is a pretty interesting one, in that he’s not the (stereo)typical portrayal of a black man in Victorian England or America. He’s the most eloquent, which I think is a good contrast for a lot of black characters we see in historical fiction that speak in dialect. It shows a different side and I like that.
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is a simple story, but it’s one that’s stuck with me as I grew up, and one that I expect will continue to stick with me in the years to come.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
“Begging your pardon, miss,” the man murmured, his look more hangdog than ever. “Barlow’s the name and though it’s not my business or place to tell you, miss, some of the other’s here, Jack Tars like myself, have deputized me to say that you shouldn’t be on this ship. Not alone as you are. Not this ship. Not this voyage, miss.”
“What do you mean?” I said, frightened anew. “Why would they say that?”
“You’re being here will lead to no good, miss. No good at all. You’d be better off far from the Seahawk.”