The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

by Avi

Paperback, 1997



Call number




Camelot (1997), 240 pages


As the lone "young lady" on a transatlantic voyage in 1832, Charlotte learns that the captain is murderous and the crew rebellious.

User reviews

LibraryThing member alana_leigh
If you are a parent looking to expand your young daughter's horizons, teaching her that she can do anything that boys can do, but need some good heroines to convey that message, then I might be inclined to recommend The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. It is, essentially, the girl's guide to
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being a cabin boy. There are diagrams with vocabulary and everything. So many classics might write of young men on ships, but I look to Avi's Charlotte Doyle as the girl who taught me that rebellious young ladies could also partake of such adventure, sailing the high seas and learning a great deal about herself.

The year is 1832. Charlotte Doyle is the daughter of an American businessman, but has lived in England with her family since she was six. Now that her father's work is returning them all to their home in Rhode Island, Charlotte is to finish out her school year and journey to America on her own. She will keep a journal of her experience that her father is to read upon her return home and he will pay particular attention to her spelling. Lest you think her parents are complete idiots, let me assure you that they arranged for Charlotte to be accompanied on her voyage by two upstanding families that her parents know and trust, but even Charlotte is aware that with a long journey ahead of them, this is a bit of an adventure. She has no idea.

The first surprise comes when Charlotte arrives on the ship and learns that the families will not be joining them. Assuming this will delay her voyage, she's further shocked to learn that the little man in her father's employ who is responsible for making sure she reaches the ship sees absolutely nothing improper or wrong about leaving Charlotte totally alone as the only female passenger on a ship full of rugged sailors. Even the mate who receives Charlotte tells the man that he would be better off finding another ship for the girl, but Charlotte is left to her minuscule cabin and feelings of helplessness. By the time she works up the courage to tell the captain that she wants to be put ashore, the ship has left port and nothing but the vast ocean stretches in front of them. If you thought all this was bad for a proper young lady, then just imagine how she'll deal with the fact that the ship's Captain Jaggery has a terribly villainous reputation and the sailors might have all joined up exclusively for the prospect of mutinous revenge.

Indeed, Charlotte has to cope with quite a lot on her voyage, but perhaps the worst of it comes when she realizes she has placed her trust in the wrong person and her actions have severe repercussions for herself and others. Having fallen for Captain Jaggery's genteel manners and status, she realizes that by providing him information about the crew, she has sabotaged their mutiny. This might not be so terrible except one man dies and, in punishment for their actions, Captain Jaggery singles out Charlotte's closest friend on the crew, the elderly black Zachariah, and flogs him to death. Believing that her wrong has cost her friend his life, Charlotte seeks to make amends by joining the crew (now a man short) and becoming a sailor to endure hard labor alongside everyone else. But now with Captain Jaggery turned against her, Charlotte cannot make a single wrong move or her own life might be forfeit.

Ultimately, an adult can look on this book and note that Charlotte is ridiculously lucky in her tenure on the ship, though her courage and determination go a long way, too. Captain Jaggery is a bit one-note in his villainy, though some effort is made to explain his reasoning. Perhaps the most surprising thing is how terribly kind most of the crew is to a young girl seeking to prove herself. This might be the gateway book for parents looking to have their daughters love Treasure Island and other similar seafaring books... or simply those who wish to inspire an interest in sailing. (I picture this as an excellent book to read prior to a visit to Mystic Seaport.) Charlotte's attention to detail on the ship is educational -- indeed, in this re-reading, I found myself clearly remembering the plot but I had forgotten just how much one learns about ships from the text. Charlotte, herself, is a winning heroine -- despite her faults, she always means well and her sense of honor is what drives her to do what some might see as an extreme action. Her subtle struggles with navigating class boundaries and gender/racial issues would make for an interesting discussion with a young person learning about history.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is a Newbery Honor book from the early 1990s and it's easy to see why. Young women in a historical setting that defy the socially accepted norm to do something right and honorable. Not a bad message for any time period, though, so I still believe the girls of today might find something of value within. And if nothing else, they'll learn a whole lot of vocabulary about ships.

Post-script! After writing the above, I did a bit of Googling and discovered that there are, indeed, plans to make this into a movie. Buzz seems to suggest that a lawsuit against Danny DiVito (listed as writer/director for the film) held it up, but it could be in theaters in 2011, starring Saoirse Ronan as Charlotte, Morgan Freeman as her friend Zachariah, and Pierce Brosnan as Captain Jaggery. Any film that promotes strong young women is a-okay in my book, so let's hope it turns out well.
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LibraryThing member meggyweg
Like many of the other readers, I found Charlotte's quick transformation from elitist snob to egalitarian girl of the people to be a bit hard to swallow. However, that didn't stop this story from being a thumping good read. It was suspensful, the villian was deliciously evil (I think in a movie,
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he'd be played by either Alan Rickman or Hugo Weaving), and there is a lot of info about sailing but the teaching aspect doesn't interfere with the story too much. The targeted age group, both boys and girls, will love this book.
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LibraryThing member mrsdwilliams
13-year-old Charlotte Doyle's exciting 1832 journey from England to her home in America is captured in the diary she keeps along the way. At the start of the trip, she is an innocent, uptight schoolgirl. She is the only female aboard the ship.

When the crew rebels, Charlotte first sides with
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handsome, civilized Captain Jaggerty, but she soon realizes that he is not an honorable man. She joins the crew as a seaman and works and suffers alongside them until she earns their respect. A murder occurs during the trip and Charlotte is tried and convicted. But that's not quite the end for Charlotte...

Charlotte is a strong character who grows up during her journey and finds out what home really means. Marvelous.
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LibraryThing member miksmom
The thrilling account of Charlotte's seafaring adventure is told in great detail. As she was instructed by her father to keep a travel journal, Charlotte's transformation from proper schoolgirl to full-fledged sailor is powerfully described in her own words. The sailing terminology did not detract
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from the story (I feared the fine details might cause me to lose interest!), but rather enlivened it. Both girls and boys will appreciate Charlotte's plucky character, and the surprise ending will make them cheer!
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LibraryThing member TadAD
Given that it was a Newbery Honor Book and is a class reading selection in grammar school, I expected a bit more from Avi's story of a well-to-do young girl who gets caught up in mutiny on a trans-Atlantic crossing in the early 19th century. The book is not bad—it's an adventure story with plenty
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of action; it's quick and easy to read; the dialog is fairly age-appropriate for its target audience; the characters are a bit one-dimensional, but not unduly so.

My objection is simply that it's not that believable. Hardened criminals, their comrades murdered because of betrayal by a 13-year old girl passenger, are unlikely to adopt her as a fellow crew member, nor is the matter how psychotic...likely to countenance it when that girl is the daughter of his ship's owner. Upon the Captain's death, the elevation of that same 13-year old to Captain, despite every member of the ship wishing to maintain the illusion that she never became part of the crew, can only be met with a snort of laughter. I also find it somewhat unbelievable (were the unpleasant life of an ordinary seaman truly depicted) that Charlotte would deal with her father's insistence on proper behavior by running away to return to a life at sea...or that a newly-elevated captain would be willing to accept the runaway daughter of the ship's owner as such a seaman.

Small complaints but I think there are better historical novels, and better Newbery candidates, that can serve as class reading projects.
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LibraryThing member anniecase
This book may have been the first I devoured as a child. The protagonist is smart, the story is intriguing and, especially for young girls, it is a story of empowerment.
LibraryThing member Mrs.Stansbury
This is a fun engaging story of a girl who has to change who she is to survive on a merchant ship making a trans-atlantic voyage. The character, Charlotte, is believable and someone you can imagine being friends with. I've recommended this book to some of my high school students who enjoy reading
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but struggle with adult fiction and novels in general. They still fondly recall books they enjoyed in middle school. So this is a great story for anyone who likes a fun book that is easy to read.
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LibraryThing member ElenaEstrada
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is a wonderfully crafted story of a young woman who finds herself in a man’s world without the protection of her family. She quickly must learn to adapt to a new environment; she must learn to think and act for herself since her survival depends on her
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ability to adjust. I quickly was able to relate to the main character’s internal and external conflicts, since the author did a great job of characterizing. The author, AVI, provides the social mores that a “proper” young lady from a well to do family must live up to. Charlotte, the main character, is a flawed character who believes she is superior to those around her since she is from a higher social class than most of the characters. As she travels by herself, she must learn to overcome her own social limitations as well as understand the people around her. Because the author is talented, it was easy to read a novel set in 1832 even though the historical context was very different to modern times. The reader is able to appreciate the values and attitudes of the particular time period as well as believe the development of the plot. The story is credible, and historically accurate. I was not surprised to see that it was a Newberry Honor Book.
Ages 4th grade and Up
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LibraryThing member elizabethholloway
At 13, Charlotte Doyle has never been out of sight of a guardian or teacher, never done any manual labor and always sought to be the essence of decorum and 19th century femininity. All this changes when she boards the Seahawk. She is supposed to travel with two other families. They never arrive.
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Instead she is the lone female among a crew that is planning mutiny. She immediately aligns herself with the captain--the only other middle class person on the ship. She soon discovers what the crew has known: he is tyrant. Through a series of dramatic events, Charlotte decides that she is obligated to serve as a member of the crew. The men are dead set against it. But her determination wins them over. As a member of the crew she begins to rethink all of her notions about femininity and what she is capable of. The captain, fearing her report of him when they return, frames her for murder. How she survives her trial and conviction is the hook that drives the book.

As a historical novel, this story succeeds at creating a vivid portrait of the values of 1830's American/British society, woman's roles and life on on the ship. As Charlotte Doyle takes on her sailor role, the outrage of the men on board is believable. During her trial, in fact, the captain makes a point of discussing her unnatural dress. Avi goes to great length to make the eventual acceptance of Charlotte as a sailor believable through the desperateness of the situation and character development. The shock and consternation of her family demonstrate the outrageousness of Charlotte's situation. They remind the reader of the extreme confines women in this period had to endure.

The depiction of Zachary, the black sailor, is well done. The racism he faces is constant but often subtle. His reaction is nuanced and his character, fully developed. The ending of the book is the ending of an adventure story more than a piece of history, but it is satisfying and true to the story.
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LibraryThing member kaionvin
I've read five Avi novels. This is a surprise to me.

Why so? Well, for one, Avi certainly has undeniable range. I've read from him a twisty Middle Ages mystery (Midnight Magic), a striking modern age morality tale (Nothing But the Truth), a meta schoolyard romance comedy (Romeo and Juliet-- Together
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(And Alive!) At Last, a cutesy anthropological mouse-hits-the-big-city tale (Ragweed... and now The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, a 19th century sea adventure.

But it's more than just genre variety, Avi doesn't seem pinned down to any particular themes or plots, nor any particular stylistic florishes. If I were being less generous, then I might describe him as a workman writer, but even in a somewhat perfunctory piece like Charlotte Doyle, there are touches that keep it from being entirely dull. One such aspect is that Avi seems really genuinely interested in sailing, and the novel is chock full of ship terms and absorbing detail. He also lends the titular character plenty of class-consciousness realistic to her time and station (that of the daughter of a sucessful middle-class merchant). Another is that the premise of the book is genuinely interesting: a passenger gets inadventantly getting involved in a mutinous war between captain and crew.

Unfortunately, the change that comes over Charlotte as necessitated by the plot (for her to become an accomplished and adventure-seeking crew-woman of her own), is not particularly believable. And as a whole, the novel really suffers from simplistic characterization, uneven plotting, and a thoroughly unnecessary framing device.

But I'll keep reading Avi for those flashes that make me think he's capable of a really self-assured, complete novel. Or at least to keep taking stabs at identifying his writer signature. Rating: 2.5 stars
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LibraryThing member jeffersonsambrosia
For fun and giggles I decided to read this book again. I read it a long time ago when it was more age appropriate for me. This is a nice period piece that covers a young woman’s journey through things. If you liked Pirates of the Caribbean you are very likely to enjoy True Confessions of
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Charlotte Doyle. It is age appropriate, but it is also enjoyable and amusing for the older crowd if they wish to watch that.
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LibraryThing member srssrs
Avi is a master author, because he can write so many books in different genres. This story has a strong female main character, but has a large supporting cast of pirate/seaman ruffians all children will enjoy. This novel is about a girl traveling alone on a merchant ship back to the Americas alone.
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Shortly into the voyage, a mutiny breaks out on board that changes Charlotte's life forever. The only part of this book that sometimes gets tedious is the amount of 'ship' jargon most YA are not familiar with. There are diagrams in the back that are fairly explicit, but a lot of children don't stop reading to turn back 100 pages to look up a word. However, the techincal jargon does add a certain authenticity to the tale. An engaging story for any child! Avi once again, proves to be a master!
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LibraryThing member cherryblossommj
When I was about 12 or 13 years old I read this book. Before this book, I had read all other required material but was not a passionate or avid reader. After this book I have a passion for reading and literature that is very strong. I love the adventure and the imaginative dreams that follow such
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an adventure. There are so many books that my mind is open up to now, and I really cannot imagine the idea of not loving to read.If you have a pre-teen girl, that does not like to read currently... I strongly suggest you get her this book. It opened millions of doors for me, and I just really hope it would for her as well.This book is about a heroine of outstanding strength and moral character. She teaches and shows that you are capable if you try.
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LibraryThing member CassieM
I could not put this book down. Every page you read makes you want to keep going. The writing is so descriptive it makes you feel like you are right there with Charlotte as she goes through an unbelievably amazing adventure full of fear and bravery. I recommend this book to young adult readers as
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well as adults. It is very entertaining.
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LibraryThing member KBroun
This is as entertaining (though unrealistic) as historical fiction gets. In this story of adventure the 13-year-old female protagonist is forced to choose between right and wrong and then live with her decision. In choosing to side with the crew, Charlotte knows she will be giving up the protected
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status of a young wealthy woman and become no better than the lowest of the crew. Despite her inexperience, Charlotte is able to learn quickly and adapt to her situation to become a respected addition to the crew. This is a great book for the MS reader and should be of high interest thanks to the recent Pirate trilogy of movies.
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LibraryThing member mysteriesrme
The plot and characterizations kept me glued to the book. Avi did an outstanding job of depicting a renegade crew and their motivations. I like the personal transformation of Charlotte. At first, I really did not like her much, but over time she grows and becomes a more sympathetic character. The
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ending was a surprise but once you see Charlotte's transformation, the ending fits.
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LibraryThing member jeriannthacker
Fast paced, exciting novel about a great heroine. good choice for historical fiction reports.
LibraryThing member Bibliophile42
This is one of my favorite books of all time. Charlotte Doyle is a strong and courageous woman up to whom many readers will look. This is Avi's best work in my opinion.
LibraryThing member kpickett
One of my favorite books growing up. In 1832 Charlotte is returning to America from her school in England on the seedy Seahawk, a ship run by a cruel captain and a scurvy crew. Charlotte is aboard when a dangerous mutiny occurs in which Charlotte is found guilty of murder. Through her cunning she
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becomes a seaman on the ship and eventually leads the other sailors. When they reach their destination Charlotte’s family doesn’t believe her tail and she sets back out to sea.
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LibraryThing member Anna454
This was fun book and a quick read. It reminded me of the type of books that I read in Middle School- full of action and pirates. Avi did a good job of describing the sailors and life at sea.
LibraryThing member Mluke04
This is an example of historical fiction because the characters and the events are fictional but the time period and the circumstances are real.
The author writes this book as a young girl's diary. This is an effective style because the reader is drawn into the story. The reader feels like the main
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character is talking to them.
Media: N/A
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LibraryThing member CrestBaptistChurch
This book tells a tale of a young girl's journey on a ship from England to America to be with her family. She forms friendships w/ the sailors and takes a much different view on the importance of stature by the end of the book.
LibraryThing member jrakeandlola
this book is a great story of murder mixed with trial and a sprinkle on friendship.
LibraryThing member candicebairn
Charlotte, a young 13 year old girl is supposed to be accompanied by a family on her journey at sea as she sails home, but she finds herself alone, well not exactly alone, the captain and crew are also aboard. This book shares their journey and what Charlotte witnesses and learns is something a
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young girl shouldn't have to.
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LibraryThing member Omrythea
A surprisingly level young girl tells the story of her journey aboard a ship. A fast-paced exciting read.


Nebraska Golden Sower Award (Nominee — 1993)
Texas Bluebonnet Award (Nominee — 1993)
Boston Globe–Horn Book Award (Winner — Fiction — 1991)
Young Hoosier Book Award (Nominee — Middle Grade — 1993)
Sequoyah Book Award (Nominee — Young Adult — 1993)
Utah Beehive Book Award (Nominee — Young Adult — 1994)
Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award (Nominee — Grades 6-8 — 1992)
Cardinal Cup (Honor — 1991)
Newbery Medal (Honor Book — 1991)
Iowa Teen Award (Nominee — 1994)
Sunshine State Young Reader's Award (Winner — Grades 6-8 — 1994)
Golden Kite Award (Winner — Fiction — 1991)
Grand Canyon Reader Award (Nominee — Intermediate — 1994)
Black-Eyed Susan Book Award (Nominee — Grades 6-9 — 1993)
Flicker Tale Award (Nominee — Juvenile Books — 1993)
Evergreen Teen Book Award (Nominee — 1993)
Maud Hart Lovelace Award (Nominee — 1994)
Best Fiction for Young Adults (Selection — 1991)
Read Aloud Indiana Book Award (Middle School — 1992)
Children's Favorites Awards (Selection — 1990)
Idaho Battle of the Books (Elementary — 2020)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

7.5 inches


0380728850 / 9780380728855
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