Thursday, February 9, 2017

Book Review: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

A long time ago, in a classroom far, far away, (hey, it was Aurora after all) there was a teacher who needed a book to read with her small group. This small group was about as diverse as can be. While they were all sixth graders (oh, the hormones!), the group was a mix of both boys and girls, a blend of races and backgrounds, and they did not like to read. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle was sitting on the classroom shelf. It was battered, fixed multiple times with tape, and had a thrift store sticker on the back. My co-teacher at the time recommended that I use it for my reading group. I didn't think it was going to go over well. I was wrong.

"Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty." So opens the story of Charlotte Doyle, a girl who lives in 1832 and is about to board the Seahawk, a merchant ship that is run by a ruthless captain, a mutinous crew, and owned by Charlotte's father's company. When the story opens, Charlotte is returning to the U.S. from a boarding school in England. She is supposed to travel with another family aboard the Seahawk, but through an odd set of circumstances, is forced to travel alone. At first, Charlotte attaches herself to Captain Jaggery because it is considered the "proper thing to do". After Charlotte reluctantly befriends the ship's cook, Zachariah, she learns of the true feelings of the crew on board the Seahawk and finds herself having to choose sides when the crew decides to overthrow Captain Jaggery.

Even as an adult, I really enjoyed this book. By now, you know that I am a sucker for historical fiction. But historical fiction that is so well written and researched that it feels like a biography? It's bound to become one of my favorites. In every edition of the novel that I have come across, the author has scattered illustrations throughout the novel so the reader is not forced to imagine, or research, what a particular object would have looked like in the 1830s. I also appreciated that the book's appendix included an illustration of an 1830's merchant trading vessel, complete with labels to explain the rigging, deck, bowsprit, and mainmast of the Seahawk. Even someone like me, who has been landlocked her entire life, was able to picture in my head exactly where the events of the story took place on the vessel. Finally, the author included a note after the appendix explaining how time was kept on the ship, even in the middle of the ocean.

I really enjoyed Charlotte as a character. Keeping in mind that Charlotte's story takes place only twenty-ish years after Pride and Prejudice, I kind of expected her to be a flouncy, weepy, mopey sort of character. One that drives the reader mad after a while and has them shouting at the book to "pull yourself up girly! There's work to be done!" I'm happy to report that Charlotte is not one of those characters. She does start out in the story that way, but quickly learns to adapt to her surroundings through observation and a certain amount of manipulation. She isn't what I would necessarily call a "kick-butt" heroine, but considering the time frame of the novel, she certainly would have been considered an anomaly in her time period.

Was there anything I didn't like about it? Yes and no. While I liked Charlotte, Zachariah, and the other members of the crew, the ruthlessness of Captain Jaggery seemed forced. The author did set up the story with the idea that Captain Jaggery is well known around Liverpool for being a tyrannical leader, but there was very little of the human spark in Captain Jaggery that we all desire in a villain. Also, the ending of the book wasn't very realistic. However, that doesn't mean that I didn't like the ending! But after thinking about the ending, I realized that it was pretty unlikely and Charlotte wouldn't be able to do the things she did without some pretty major repercussions. (Vague, I know, but no spoilers!)

I know, this is another middle grade to young adult novel, but it is definitely worth a read. After all, there are very few adults that I know who don't like a story filled with adventure, pirates, and mystery.

Emily went to a book swap party a few weeks ago and was given her first Robin McKinley book, Spindle's End. She's beginning to fall in love with twisted fairy tales!

No comments:

Post a Comment