PLOT SUMMARYIn the year 1832, during the Industrial Revolution, Charlotte Doyle is left to finish her studies at an English boarding school while her father is summoned home to attend to a textile manufacturing business. This is the story of a prim and proper thirteen year-old girl who has been educated at the best schools, dressed in the finest, and spoiled by her parents and governess. The family sails to America without her with the intent for her to finish her studies and join them in America. Her father has made arrangements for her safe passage at a later date, traveling under the supervision of a well-respected family, but they are unable to make the voyage. Charlotte becomes the sole passenger on the Seahawk, amongst a dozen rough, mutinous seamen and a feared and tyrannical leader, Captain Andrew Jaggery. The ship’s cook, Zachariah, warns Charlotte of impending troubles and presents her with a dagger to keep for self-defense. Putting all her trust in the captain, whom she reveres as a father figure, she becomes his informer and tells him all about the crewmen’s conniving. She soon learns that her words and actions are used against her as she becomes entangled in the vengeful uprising against the captain. Charlotte is met with a grim opportunity to reflect on her life when she is accused, tried, and found guilty for murder aboard the Seahawk.
Avi is a prolific writer of young adult fiction. In The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle he has created a character reflecting the voice of a strong female point of view. Although Charlotte is groomed to be a prim and proper young lady without thoughts and views of her own, she undergoes a transformation in her own perspectives and courage. The elements of tyranny, mutiny, and moral growth portray challenges that are artfully woven together to suggest conflict that is both internal and external. Charlotte is faced with a moral dilemma to support her shipmates in their uprising or to side with the immoral authority of Captain Jaggery. Avi's vivid descriptions of life on a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the mid 1800s offer a unique setting integral to the time period of the story. The appendix by the author at the end of the book and the explanation of terms throughout are helpful to someone not familiar with the unique features of the setting (e.g., masts, rigging, bowsprit, etc.). This exciting, adventurous tale is a classic journey novel that is enjoyable for both genders of any middle school population.
REVIEW EXCERPTS and AWARDS
Newbery Honor Book 1991
ALA’s Best Book for Young Adults and ALA’s Notable Children’s Book
Publishers Weekly-“ In this crackling good yarn--a Newbery Honor book--a 13-year-old girl must extricate herself from a perilous position during an 1832 transatlantic voyage.”
School Library Journal-“ On a long, grueling journey from England to Rhode Island in 1802, a 12 year old changes from a prim and proper girl to a swashbuckling mate of a mutinous crew and is accused of murder by the captain. Awash with shipboard activity, intense feelings, and a keen sense of time and place, the story is a throwback to good old-fashioned adventure yarns on the high seas.”
Encourage middle school children to choose other historical fiction and to keep a journal from the viewpoint of the main character.
Additional reading of historical fiction:
Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns 1986 ISBN: 10 0618919710
Flight of the Fisherbird by Nora Martin 2003 ISBN: 10-1582348146
Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson 2002 ISBN: 10-0525467394
Post Captain by Patrick O’Brian 1990 ISBN: 10 0393307069
The Secret River by Kate Greenville 2006 ISBN: 10 1841959146
Tales from Gold Mountain: Stories of the Chinese in the New World by Paul Yee 1990 ISBN: 10-0888990983
The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed by Heather Vogel Fredrick 2002 ISBN:10-068984851-X
Ansell, Janis and Holley, Pam. What do Children and Young Adults Read Next? A Reader’s Guide to Fiction for Children and Young Adults. Vol. 6. Detroit: Gale Cengage Learning. 2005.
Vardell, Sylvia. Children’s Literature in Action. Westport, CT. Libraries Unlimited. 2008.