The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
A book review for parents
This historical adventure by Avi is published by Scholastic, Inc. and is written for kids ages 10 to 13. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Charlotte Doyle is 12. It is the 1800s, and her wealthy father has arranged for her passage back to the United States on his merchant sailing ship. Two other families do not show up to sail, and Charlotte is the only passenger aboard. A questionable captain is in charge and tells Charlotte that it is acceptable for her to travel aboard the ship accompanied by a rough and unrefined crew. After the whipping of a sailor reveals an evil side of Captain Jaggery, Charlotte finds herself relating more to the crew than to the deceptive captain. Charlotte decides the only course left for her is to join the crew. She proves her nautical skills to the crew first by climbing the ship's mast. The captain is infuriated that Charlotte has left her station as passenger. When a sailor is killed, the captain frames Charlotte as the murderer. She is tried and sentenced to death by hanging. A mysterious, former crew member becomes her ally, and the captain is hurled into the sea before the ship reaches America. Once home, she realizes the adventures aboard the ship have changed her. The book ends as she sets off for more adventures with her newly found crew.
Many references are made to God in respectful context. Charlotte and the captain both refer to their Bibles. At one point, the captain tells Charlotte to "preach the gospel if you have a mind to." The crew enjoys hearing Charlotte read from the Bible, especially the Jonah story. The captain also permits her to read from the Bible before he announces their daily duties. God or a reference to a Christian heritage is mentioned in nearly every chapter.
Although the parents are not characters until the end of the book, the patriarchal society is strong and well respected. Charlotte is aware of what is acceptable for a girl her age, both in actions and in proper dress and manners. Captain Jaggery is treated with honor until he loses Charlotte's respect. Charlotte's responses toward her parents may be considered inappropriate at the end of the book when she leaves her home in the night and returns to sea. However, the reader is left with the idea that she is seeking new adventures rather than acting defiantly toward her parents.
Other Belief Systems
Some sailors describe God as a force similar to a heavy fist. Superstition exists among them regarding the strength of the sea and wind as God's wrath.
H--- and d--- are used a few times. The ragged crew is once described as "men recruited from the doormat of h---." Charlotte thought that seeing a mysterious crew member was like seeing a "tormented soul cast down to h---." The third reference is spoken in anger from the captain: "I'd wondered where you'd gone. Not to h--- as I'd hoped — but here."
In another portion of the story, the crew curses and then apologizes, but no actual profanity is used. As Charlotte enters the crew's quarters for the first time, she sees scandalous pictures. No further description is given. Violent acts are scattered throughout. A crew member is whipped for supposed insubordination; and Charlotte unintentionally cuts Captain Jaggery's face.
A head appears above a portal of the ship's belly, and Charlotte wonders if it is real. She discovers it is a carved coconut head. A man is found with a knife in his back, and another old sailor who had an arm removed as punishment appears in the story.
The only instance of sexuality is a reference by a crew member wondering whether he and Charlotte being together in a room would appear to be wrong.
Newbery Honor Book 1991; and more.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Do you think Charlotte made the right choice to abandon her proper upbringing and put on the clothing and duties of a crew member?
- What choice did Charlotte have when she discovered the plot of the crew members to overthrow the captain?
- Do you think she was right to tell Captain Jaggery?
- Later Charlotte does not know whom to trust.
What could she do to ensure she was getting the truth from the men on the ship?
- Is personal safety Charlotte's biggest concern?
- Do you think Charlotte's father acted wisely to keep Charlotte secluded at home upon reading her journal and learning of the happenings aboard the ship?
- Charlotte feels she isn't being rebellious by leaving home in search of further adventures.
How do you think her parents will feel?
Did Charlotte act wisely when she left home to join the crew on another journey?
- How would you define selfishness?
How are Charlotte's actions selfish?
What does the Bible say about looking out for others first?
Who is Charlotte looking out for?
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.