The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
Middle-grade historical fiction
This was my husband’s suggestion for “A Book Set At Sea,” one of the categories on the PopSugar Reading Challenge. It was a book he’d read as a child, and one I’d never heard of. It was a quick, easy read, as it was meant for children. Late elementary school, would be my guess. (Husband read it in fifth grade for a class.)
The book is set in the summer of 1832. Charlotte Doyle is setting sail across the Atlantic to return to America and rejoin the rest of her family, after finishing the school year at her boarding school. Things are a bit suspicious from the beginning of the voyage – the other two families that were supposed to be on board the ship didn’t make it, so it’s just Charlotte and the crew. Deckhands at the dock warned her away from the ship and refused to carry her things to it.
As the voyage winds on, Charlotte discovers that the crew intensely dislikes their captain and thinks he’s far too strict – he beat one of their number so badly on the last voyage that the crewman lost his arm. Torn between the “noble” captain, who represents everything she’s used to, and her own sense of right and wrong, she starts to notice how cruel he is to the crew. Ultimately, her life, and the lives of the crew, hinge on her decisions as the captain uses her to spy on the crew and report back to him.
My favorite passage from the book turned out to be my husband’s favorite, as well:
“What’s a hurricane?”
“The worst storm of all.”
“Can’t we sail around?”
Barlow again glanced at the helm, the sails and then at the sky above. He frowned. “I heard Mr. Hollybrass and Jaggery arguing about it. To my understanding,” he said, “I don’t think the captain wants to avoid it.”
“It’s what Grimes has been saying. The captain’s trying to move fast. If he sets us right at the hurricane’s edge, it’ll blow us home like a pound of shot in a two-pound cannon.”
“What if he doesn’t get it right?”
“Two pounds of shot in a one-pound cannon.”
I quite enjoyed this little book, and it’s a great example of a girl bucking tradition and doing what she’s good at, gender roles be damned. There is a fair bit of violence – in one scene a man is severely whipped – but it’s not graphic. No sexual themes at all. Pretty suitable for kids as soon as they’re decent enough readers.
From the cover of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle:
The Seahawk looms against a darkening sky, black and sinister. Manned by an angry, motley crew at the mercy of a ruthless captain, the rat-infested ship reeks of squalor, despair…and mutiny! It is no place for the lone passenger, thirteen-year-old Charlotte Doyle, yet for her there is no turning back. At first a trapped and powerless young girl, Charlotte dares to become the center of a daring and deadly voyage that will challenge her courage, her loyalties, and her very will to survive!