The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle






Date Reviewed:

April 30, 2021

was reading through a list of All Time Greatest Young Adult Novels, and saw The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. I had never heard of the book, nor the author, but the premise sounded intriguing (young girl accused of murder aboard a sailing ship in the early nineteenth century), so I checked it out of the library. It is just 210 pages, so it can be read in a few hours. I found it to be an enjoyable book; perhaps I will look for other books by Avi to read.

Charlotte Doyle is a thirteen year old girl in England who needs to sail home to America after years of schooling at a finishing school. Unfortunately, Charlotte will be traveling alone, her family has already left for America ahead of her. Charlotte's father owns the shipping company, so Charlotte will sail on one of his ships, the Seahawk. Right from the start, something seems amiss. When the dock workers hear the name of the Seahawk and her captain, Jaggery, they flee in terror. But Charlotte's chaperone is not dissuaded, he forces young Charlotte onto the Seahawk and then storms away. Charlotte senses her peril but doesn't know how to assert herself, and soon finds herself underway on the two-masted brig.

The crew is small - there is Captain Jaggery, first mate Mr Hollybrass and the second mate Mr Ketch. The crew numbers just eight men, and they are a sorry looking lot - appearing sinister and yet decrepit at the same time. At first, the voyage sails without incident. Charlotte has tea with the captain and tries to avoid the rough looking crewmen. The cook, an ancient seaman named Zachariah, befriends her. Zachariah gives Charlotte a dirk, imploring her to keep it with her - it is important that Charlotte be armed. But Charlotte discounts his warnings, what danger could there be that would require her to need a dirk?

Alas, Charlotte discovers Captain Jaggery is a monster, ruthlessly driving the crewmen. One a previous voyage, Jaggery had a crewman named Cranick punished so severely that Cranick lost his arm. The remaining crewmen are mutinous; sullenly staring at the captain while harboring the darkest of thoughts in their hearts. Charlotte is trapped in this explosive situation, a thirteen year old girl in the middle of the Atlantic.

There were a couple of issues that I thought were unexplained. One was navigation - there is no mention of charts or sextants or looking at the stars. Even if violent weather tosses the small ship about, no one seems to worry where the Seahawk is sailing on a vast and trackless ocean. The other issue I had is that many seaman's tasks require a lot of strength - pulling yourself up the ratlines, hauling on ropes to hoist the sails, etc - this work requires raw power, and I doubt a thirteen year old girl, no matter how determined, would be able to fulfill the jobs.

Overall, this is quick, entertaining read. It appears to be the most popular of the many books written by Avi; the second most reviewed appears to be Crispin, so perhaps I should read that.