Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Elizabeth Swann's Got Nothin' on Charlotte Doyle

I'm not sure a better setting exists for an old-fashioned adventure tale than the high seas. Something about a creaking ship riding the endless, always fickle sea, makes for exciting scenes
and imaginative characters. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by prolific children's author Avi, is no exception.

The story takes place in 1832 and stars 13-year-old Charlotte Doyle. Charlotte is an American girl who has just completed her final term at Liverpool's Barrington School for Better Girls, and is returning home to her family in Rhode Island. Her gentleman father has arranged passage for her on the ship Seahawk. Although he planned to have her travel in the company of two other families, both have bowed out at the last minute, leaving Charlotte to cross the sea alone. The idea terrifies her, especially when she observes the rat-infested vessel with its menacing, all-male crew. Before the ship has even left port, Charlotte has received numerous ominous warnings to leave the Seahawk. Since her father has left her with no money, she has no choice but to follow his instruction and travel on the filthy ship.

Although Charlotte vows to lock herself in her room, it isn't long before hunger draws her out. It also draws her to the cook, Zachariah, who secretly gives her a dirk, urging her to take it and "Place it where it may be reached" (24). The old sailor then explains that a mutiny is in the works against cruel Captain Jaggery. Charlotte can't decide whom to trust - the weathered cook with his stories of the Captain's brutality or Captain Jaggery, a cultured gentleman, who warns her not to listen to the sailors' exaggerated stories. Caught in the middle, Charlotte rats out the crew, and soon finds herself a pariah among dangerous men. To redeem herself, she casts aside her white gloves and petticoats, and joins the crew. Although the act wins her some loyalty, it is not enough to save her from a later charge of murder, which demands death by hanging. With only 24 hours to prove her innocence, Charlotte must use all her strength and wits to save herself and the ship that has become her whole world.

I absolutely loved this swashbuckling story of high adventure on the open sea. The action never quit, which meant I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. I also enjoyed the characters, although the sailors all kind of blended together. I guess that's appropriate since the real focus was Charlotte. Although she began as a pretentious snob, she turns into a heroine with enough pluck and compassion to win over any reader's heart. She reminded me a little of Elizabeth Swann, (Kiera Knightly's character on Pirates of the Caribbean), but Charlotte solved her problems almost entirely on her own, so I think she wins in the pluck department. Although I felt the story ended the way it should, it still bothered me a little as a parent. Besides that, though, it was a wonderful, thrilling adventure. I loved it. I'm giving it a solid A.

3 comments:

  1. This sounds so good. I've read several books by Avi but not this one. I must add it to my tbr list. Thanks, great review!

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  2. Ohhh-with the Seafaring Challenge fast approaching, I think this one's going on the list now. My library has it, and your review makes it sound irrresistable!

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  3. This does sound good! Thanks for posting about it!

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