The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
(Scholastic, 1990;
Harper Trophy, 2003)

Charlotte Doyle is a prim and proper 13-year-old lady in the making. Having completed schooling in England, she sets sail to rejoin her family in Rhode Island -- but her father's carefully made travel arrangements, including escorts and chaperones, go awry, and she boards the ship alone. Before she can debark to make other arrangements, the Seahawk departs from Liverpool and begins the several-week journey across the Atlantic. Charlotte finds herself alone with the crew, an unsavory lot to a man, and the captain, who seems utterly charming and refined despite his unpopular reputation.

But before the voyage can get very far, Charlotte finds herself embroiled in shipboard plots, mutinous rumblings, betrayals, brutal punishments and murders. Her schooling has not prepared her for anything but the most genteel of society, so the young girl is forced by circumstances to adapt to this new and dangerous situation. She also faces a hard choice in choosing her loyalties on this volatile ship.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is an engrossing, exciting book that is suitable for younger readers but will hold the interest of adults. As historical fiction, readers will find it filled with details about life on a ship in 1832, and it's obvious Avi has done his research about the period. As both a nautical adventure story and a murder-mystery, the novel has both a riveting plot and several rich, well-developed characters to hold your attention.

Charlotte herself is a fascinating protagonist, growing from her refined but naive beginnings into a decisive, self-assured young girl. She is an excellent role model for teen readers of either sex. Captain Andrew Jaggery is a puzzle; his obvious good breeding and manners easily impress the lonely girl, but his reputation is fierce and brutal. Only as the story advances will Charlotte (and readers) discover his true nature.

I highly recommend this book to all but the youngest readers. In particular, fans of L.A. Meyer's Bloody Jack series should enjoy this seafaring mystery, a deserving recipient of the Newbery Award.

by Tom Knapp
4 November 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.