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The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

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An ocean voyage of unimaginable consequences... Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty. But I was just such a girl, and my story is worth relating even if it did happen years ago. Be warned, however: If strong ideas and action offend you, read no more. Find another companion to share your idle hours. For my part I intend to tell the truth as I lived it.

278 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published September 1, 1990

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About the author


168 books1,542 followers
Avi is a pen name for Edward Irving Wortis, but he says, "The fact is, Avi is the only name I use." Born in 1937, Avi has created many fictional favorites such as The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Nothing but the Truth, and the Crispin series. His work is popular among readers young and old.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,648 reviews
Profile Image for trivialchemy.
77 reviews452 followers
December 9, 2008
This book just flashed into my mind this evening unbidden. I can't believe how completely I had forgotten it. But for several years after I just started to read YA novels, I thought this book was the epic shit. And it has a heroine! And she's good for something besides good manners! Either this is way out of character for me, or perhaps as a ten year old I wasn't a cranky misogynist (unlikely).

I also read some of the other reviews here for this book, and I have to say, on behalf of ten year-old Isaiah, that you're missing the point. Ten year-old Isaiah doesn't give a damn if it's implausible that the lace-frilled, permed and buxom Charlotte reject her social mores, jump on a ship and start swabbing and mizzen yard-arming. The trajectory itself was the excitement! The strong-willed woman in an implausible fight against sinister forces greater than her. There's a reason this book won a Newberry, and it's not because 30 year-olds recognized how historically inaccurate it is. It's because 10 year-olds recognized how AWESOME it is.

p.s. Charlotte Doyle, I love you. Please write.
December 19, 2022

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As you may know, I'm doing a project where I reread some of my adolescent favorites, so when I saw a copy of THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE sitting in a little free library, I knew I just had to pick it up and give it a read because this was one of my favorites as a young teen.

One of my favorite literary tropes is spoiled heroines who end up undergoing a redemption arc. Charlotte Doyle is a very proper young miss, class-conscious and prone to airs. When we meet her, she is dressed to the nines and about to board a ship to return to her New Englandian family from English boarding school. She's also such a laughable prude; definitely, she is the type of girl who would be the villain in anyone else's story but her own. Ugh on wheels.

Right away, things are super sus. Men refuse to work as porter for her luggage once they find out the name of her ship and its captain. The other two families she was supposed to be traveling with have mysteriously dropped out. And she's given several warnings from the crew-- including the gift of a knife from the preacher/cook Zachariah. Perhaps most sinisterly of all is when she takes tea with the captain and he tells her to be his eyes and ears and to inform him if she ever spots a round robin:

A symbol of mutiny.

TRUE CONFESSIONS is a fantastic story of betrayal and redemption. Even though it is young adult/middle grade, it imparts lessons about social class and morality that have stuck with me for over ten years. It is truly chilling in parts and had me breathlessly turning pages late at night with a flashlight when I was a kid. Perhaps best of all, it is a tale of adventure on the high seas with a heroine who is rife with agency and is permitted to be flawed and unlikable at times, because that is what it is to be human.

If you enjoy stories about strong female protagonists, this is a must-have. It really held up, and I thought it was fun that the author included a ship diagram and a recipe for duff.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Audrey.
132 reviews9 followers
September 22, 2007
Middle school girls who know nothing whatsoever of history will undoubtedly find this book utterly enthralling. I won't deny that the story is paced well and the prose is well constructed. The problem is, it has no internal integrity. Books with talking animals and intergalactic travel require less suspension of disbelief. Charlotte makes a completely implausible personality shift. An etiquette-obsessed, "well-bred," snobbish, wealthy Victorian girl, in a fit of remorse, suddenly rejects her social status and joins a ship's crew. We are supposed to swallow this, despite the fact that, at the beginning of the book, she completely believes in the values of her society (that she is superior to the crew, that any type of physical labor is beneath her, etc.). That kind of value shift would take several months, maybe years, not the short time alloted in the book. To think otherwise is to overlook the personality of the character in question and the deeply ingrained nature of social mores. Add to this the fact that Avi makes feeble attempts at duplicating the language of the time period, and I just couldn't handle the book. On the strength of Avi's ability as a writer, I gave it two stars instead of one. However, this book's complete failure to tell a story that is in keeping with the heroine's personality makes it, in my opinion, an unworthwhile read.
Profile Image for Margaret Chind.
3,110 reviews210 followers
July 27, 2007
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 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.
Profile Image for Erin.
2,818 reviews494 followers
April 12, 2017
A sailor chooses the wind that takes the ship from a safe port.Ah, yes, but once you're abroad, as you have seen, winds have a mind of their own. Be careful, Charlotte, careful of the wind you choose.

One of my all time favorite books from my childhood. Imagine that paperbacks like this one used to cost Canadians only 4.99! Awww... the 90's! I was a huge fan of Avi when I was in grades 4-6 and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle was my #1 favorite. I decided to read it to my secondary 1-2 ( grade 7&8) students as a read-aloud, reading one chapter before the beginning of our lessons. The transformation of Charlotte from the beginning of the story until the end, the fascinating insight into life on a 19th century ship, class differences, race differences, and intrigue on the high seas. My students only disagreed with the author on one event that comes at the end of the story. They were a bit more bloodthirsty! Lastly, it has one of those really great hooks at the beginning of the book Not every thirteen year old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty.
Profile Image for Kate Quinn.
Author 32 books21.5k followers
August 30, 2019
I adored this book as a teen. Maybe it stretches credulity now. But it fired my imagination and made me want to find more books about girls who went adventuring in historical times, and for that I love it.
Profile Image for RachelAnne.
580 reviews74 followers
June 18, 2007
Avi is an incredibly accomplished author, and this smoothly written work is well-constructed with a good dose of adventure. However, I disliked the heroine intensely and found it extremely implausible that a young lady of her disposition and upbringing should so utterly and permanently reject nearly all societal mores and roles she was taught to revere in such a short time period. Moreover, it was absolutely unbelievable that the crew would accept her offer to work as a sailor. I thought Charlotte was an unbearable prude at the beginning of the novel. By the book's end she her values had changed, but she was no less priggish in her adherence to this new set of values. I know that MANY people disagree with this assessment, and less-historically inclined readers will find this a rollicking good adventure. Despite a major flaw in the book's historical realism and my personal reaction to the character, this is a well-written and carefully constructed work.
Profile Image for Bren fall in love with the sea..
1,536 reviews259 followers
February 16, 2020
“A sailor chooses the wind that takes the ship from a safe port. Ah, yes, but once you're abroad, as you have seen, winds have a mind of their own. Be careful, Charlotte, careful of the wind you choose.”
― Avi, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

Honestly? I am in love..with this book.

So we all read and read and as each new year starts I know for me, I look forward to finding, not just books I like but maybe a few that I c an adore...you know what I mean don't you? It's why we read..always looking for that next hidden treasure.

And so far this year I have read some good ones but nothing I'd say just leaps into unforgettable territory. Until this book.

So I read across all genres. But I do so love Historical Fiction. Specifically, the type where a certain time period or location can come alive..that really just does it for me.

One of my all time favorite Historical reads is 'The Witch of Blackbird Pond", which I first read as a kid and I reread it every so often. This reminded me so much of that book.

This has been on my TBR list forever. No in depth plot recount on this one as it is a pretty well known book with hundreds of reviews. But I will talk about why I liked it so much.

Like, the other book I mentioned, this book, True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle has the theme of an unusual young female struggling to find her identity in a world that wants to keep her down and mold her to the wishes of other people. And like with Kit, in Blackbird Pond, Charlotte is, at heart, a warm, sassy and strong female, forced to fight for her life and identity under life threatening circumstances.

I also adored the homage to the sea. I loved the camaraderie of the sailors and the slow and easy pace of the book. I loved that I felt right there on the ship, as the wind whipped about and Seafoam sprayed everywhere.

I loved Charlotte's gutsiness and her authenticity. I loved everything about this book and found the writing sweeping and magnificent. Read it in one sitting. Those are the types of books to savor.

Also agree with the author..no sequel! Ending was perfect.

Highly recommended to all fans of Historical Fiction and adventure stories. A wonderful, sea drenched five stars for this story.
Profile Image for Sandi.
91 reviews3 followers
December 4, 2007
Set in England in the 1830’s, this high suspense historical fiction story takes place on a ship carrying thirteen year-old Charlotte Doyle, a young lady of proper upbringing, home to her family in Providence, Rhode Island. There is high suspense as the tale unfolds and Charlotte is accused of murder. Charlotte learns a valuable lesson about not judging people based on first impressions or positions of authority. The book has won many awards including the Boston Globe – Horn Book Award, Newberry Honor Award, and ALA Notable Children’s Book Award.
A major theme in the book is the conflict that arises when Charlotte acts outside the expected gender conventions of the time. A compare and contrast study of the social expectations of young people today with those of the early 1800’s focusing on expected roles as they relate to gender would be an appropriate activity for upper elementary to middle school students studying this book. Some prior instruction in the societal structure of the time and in nautical history and conventions would be necessary to help students grasp the magnitude of Charlotte’s decision. This could be a 5th grade social studies lesson to satisfy PASS 3.2.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 27 books5,589 followers
July 15, 2010
Is it possible that I have never reviewed this book?! Or maybe I've just reviewed another edition? Whatever the case, this book is fantastic! A young, respectable girl returning from her English boarding school to her home in Massachusetts ends up caught in the middle of a mutiny, and pressed into service as a sailor. Wonderfully descriptive, with meticulous detail about life on board a ship, readers of all ages and sexes can enjoy this book.
Profile Image for Amy.
2,542 reviews382 followers
May 18, 2018
This book represents so much of my middle school years, and so many day-dreams, that I hardly know where to begin with it. I love this story. In my imagination, I've written countless sequels. Charlotte is my friend and playfellow and her fellow sailors remain some of my favorite people. This book will always be near and dear to my heart.
Profile Image for M.L. Milligan.
Author 5 books20 followers
October 25, 2021
This book was so cool!! And seriously just what I needed for the book I'm currently writing. I do have to put it out there, that being a seafaring/borderline pirate book, there was a bit of piratey language to go along with it. But as a whole, it really wasn't that bad. Defiantly a book you'll finish in a hurry.

A big thanks to a certain someone for sending me this book. You're awesome, girl. 😉💙
Profile Image for Shannon .
1,216 reviews2,103 followers
October 16, 2008
It is 1832 and thirteen year old Charlotte Doyle is making her way to her family’s home in Rhode Island from England, having finished her schooling. The voyage does not have an auspicious beginning – the two families who were meant to travel with her do not appear, so she is left without a guardian or supervision on board a merchant vessel whose captain everyone seems to want to avoid.

The environment of the ship is new and scary but, although frightened, Charlotte keeps her wits and her manners and slowly warms to the offered friendship of an old black man, Zachariah.

The captain is cruel and contemptuous of his crew, but Charlotte is offended by the stories Zachariah tells her, her understanding of hierarchy is so ingrained. Then the ship hits the doldrums and Charlotte inadvertently discovers evidence of a mutiny in the planning; telling the Captain brings his wrath down on the crew, and when Zachariah is unfairly whipped Charlotte tries to stop in but only makes matters worse. In an effort to make up for destroying the mutiny and seeing one man die and her friend Zachariah badly beaten, she changes her clothes and joins the crew as a sailor. She learns the trade but is accused of murdering the first mate and must stand trial before the vindictive Captain, who decides to have her hanged.

I first read this book in grade 7, and fell in love with it. Charlotte was my absolute hero, my role model for independence, resourcefulness, courage and unladylike behaviour. I borrowed it several times from my school library, and never forgot it, though I couldn’t remember what it was called. Then last year I asked the amazing people at http://community.livejournal.com/what... who gave me the title and author, and I easily found it at the bookshop. I have to admit, I was very surprised at how slim the book is. I remember it as being quite thick! Funny how unreliable our memories are isn’t it.

I don’t want to give the impression that this is a “girly” book in any way – it’s not. It’s an adventure on the Pacific, a historical portrayal of a particular time, place and class(es), and shares a wealth of information about ships and how they work – including an appendix with sketches of the Seahawk, explanations of ship lingo and so on.

What always caught my notice was how truly alone Charlotte is in this story. She manages to make a few friends of the crew – or get their respect, anyway – but in the end no one can help her but herself. She’s put in a frightening situation from the moment of boarding the ship and it only gets worse and worse, but she’s a sweet girl who learns a thing or two about class, about authority and justice, and about survival. In the end, a life on land with her family makes her restless and she returns to the life of a sailor. The fact that such experiences changes us is very clear in this story.

Profile Image for amandalee.
107 reviews34 followers
February 1, 2012
I have now read this novel, well, 13 times. Wait! Thirteen times? How can that be? And why? This novel is okay, but it is definitely not of a "read thirteen times" caliber.

The first reading was when I was a sixth grade student; it was a class novel. Inspired by the novel, my classmates and I signed a round robin in an attempt to overthrow our teacher. We knew that the crew was on to something, and like them, we were dissatisfied with our "captain". And, like the crew, we failed. After scribbling our middle school signatures, we placed that round robin on our teacher's desk. The result: a week of no recess.

[I wish I could find this teacher, who has retired, and apologize to him for the behavior of my class.]

The other 12 times? Ironically, I now teach this novel to middle school students. This is the fourth year I have taught the novel and each year I use it with three separate classes. Believe it or not, we read the novel in its entirety - which means I read it three times through a year.

I give my kids a warning before we start - this book WILL start SLOW, but, I PROMISE, it will pick up. We discuss the history/time period (the kids are always amazed at how different it was in the 1800s); we talk about parts of a brig (the ship they are sailing on); we work slowly through the first few chapters. The first few days of reading are met with grumbling. However, just like I promised the kids, the book picks up. By the time we get to the middle of the book, kids are BEGGING to read more. In fact, a student - who was clear that he hates reading - asked if we were going to read today. As soon as he said it, he paused and then said, "I can't believe I just asked that. Who would have thought I would like a book?"

Is this book the best YA book I have ever read? No. Not even close. However, I appreciate the history, the lessons within, and, most obviously, the fact that the book engages my students - even the hesitant ones.

Profile Image for X.
195 reviews
July 23, 2008
This isn't something I would have read if the librarian hadn't handed it to me, but I'm glad she did. Charlotte's struggle to decide who to trust was intriguing, and the description of the ship, complete with an appendix and drawings was excellent. It was an exciting and also thoughtful book.
Profile Image for chloe yeung ♡.
392 reviews265 followers
July 18, 2019
loved avi's city of orphans! hope i'll like this as much :D

super-short review

loved charlotte's character development! also zachariah's my new favorite character - he's such a kind and gentle man. :D
Profile Image for Allyson Jamison.
118 reviews
November 2, 2021
For a pirate story I was very impressed with the cleanliness of this book! So it really disappointed we when towards the end there was one bad word. Still, I really enjoyed this book and the tale was very intriguing!!
Profile Image for Tracy.
520 reviews24 followers
June 9, 2011
I think any Newberry Award should be 4 stars, at least, but the ending of this novel is so particularly bad that I can't give it more than 2 stars. The story was educational and engaging. It would be interesting to young children to know more about life in the early 19th century, especially a sea voyage. I hope that's the part that got the Newberry.

The end is wrong for so many reasons! A young girl choosing to abandon a comfortable life and good education to become a sailor? I firmly believe that women should be free to follow their dreams and can achieve anything they work towards. But a 13-year-old woman sailor in 1832 would have had no voice. Her entire life would be in the hands of her ship's captain, and Charlotte Doyle had just seen how wrong that could go! So to turn around and jump back on board is irrational, even for the most adventurous person. The life of a poor woman in that century was not something any girl, no matter how young and naive, would choose.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Lisa.
131 reviews25 followers
January 10, 2008
This book is also part of my Newbery quest. To be honest, I don't know how this book won. It reminded me of nothing so much as a sanitized Moll Flanders for children (no prostitution). It has that antiquated-pulp feel, implausible and sensationalistic. No child of her age in that era would have been sent to travel alone without a chaperone, there would have been a backup plan if anything went wrong, neither the story nor Charlotte's physical and personal changes could have occurred in the less than two months allotted...nothing about this story made sense to me. On top of that, the tone was so grim and dark that it lacked the fun and engaging-ness I want from a children's book. The only interest was in the sensationalism of the story...but there is truly something amiss when a Newbery-honoree children's book reads like a guilty pleasure.
Profile Image for Abby.
35 reviews
October 17, 2019
This book is Great! There is a lot of suprises throughout the book and if you like mystery then this is the book for you.
January 5, 2022
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyal is a good book but in the beginning of the book 📖 it is very slow then there some action in the middle and whole lot of action at the very end of the book. I personally like when there's a lot of action with important scenes so it keeps me interested
Profile Image for Lexie.
2,073 reviews297 followers
November 10, 2018
I think I regret rereading this. I read this originally at 13, so Charlotte's age, and chaffing for something other then Fear Street, Sweet Valley, Poirot and Anne McCaffrey.

This felt like a breathe of fresh air and I am indebted to it for the simple fact it gave me a reason to broaden my reading horizons to historical fiction (mostly of the romance kind).

But n this reread - the first time in 21 years I've picked the book up again - I was so uttetly bored I worried I had read a different book as a child. Instead I did find Charlotte to be just as impetuous just as rambunctious and just as impulsive as I remembered.

What had changed was how I viewed Charlotte's actions themselves. The writing was just as formal and stilted as I remembered; Avi's writing being and that in and of itself caused problems.

I didn't feel much passion I suppose, not much drama. In the last 21 years this kind of story has been a staple for me and I find the book that started my interest lacks the verve of it's predessors (HOOK'S DAUGHTER, but Heidi Schultz for instance is also about a well heeled daughter finding her place is at sea then tending embroidery).

The humor I remember from my first time reading is not here nor is the cleverness I remembered. My nostalgia hit me hard when Charlotte is confronting the Captain, but it lacked the battle of wits I recalled.

So in general I should have left this to my memories. Maybe Charlotte is just too young for me to feel a kinship, or maybe we long for different horizons now.
Profile Image for Jen .
2,457 reviews28 followers
November 22, 2018
So so SO should have left this as a fond memory rather than attempt to re-read this.

I didn’t realize how important Avi and his books were to me as a young girl until I met him at an ALA conference one year and I just BURST into tears and I couldn’t speak, at all, let alone coherently. I scared the poor man. Which surprised me, because don’t all women of my age cry all over him, gasping about how important his books were to them when they were little girls?

So imagine my absolute dread and horror when I started to re-read this book, that I realized with a sinking heart that this book was not as good as I remembered.

I wasted a good cry.

Poor man.

Ok, it’s not a horrible book, but after reading this as an adult, I see where it is more for a younger audience. Good for the age for which it was written. Not so much for older teens and adults.

2.5 stars, rounded up, because I cried on the author.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
320 reviews70 followers
August 4, 2019
For the twelve year old girl who first read this it is still a thrilling 5 star read.
For the almost 40 year old re-reading it, it is far fetched with a highly unbelievable plot and flat characterization.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,277 reviews42 followers
October 20, 2020
Thirteen year old, Charlotte Doyle, finds herself unchaperoned on her ocean voyage home to Rhode Island from England. As if that wasn't dangerous enough, the ship is ripe with mutinous intentions and Charlotte is caught between the opposing forces. True justice is what she seeks, but she will have to shed the expectations of her upbringing and gender to find it.

My 7th grade daughter was asked to join a book club. This was the first book chosen and we read it together. I can see why it has won a bunch of awards; it has all the right elements - a well-researched setting, nice vocabulary, and a character navigating a moral dilemma in which she must transform herself to favor a more modern viewpoint.

When we discussed the book as a group, the vocabulary actually proved to be a stumbling block for many of the girls in the group. Some words were more advanced than they were used to and the book used a lot of sailing jargon. The jargon in particular frustrated several kids.

The action in the plot was similar to a boat in moderate seas - up and down, up and down. Things would just start happening, only to lead to a boring section that lasted for a while until another crest came into view. I empathized with the kids during these boring parts and could see how easy it would be to just put the book down and not continue. However, when finished there were plenty of exciting parts to discuss, you just had to slog through the boring bits.

It was most interesting to hear everyone's thoughts on the expectations of gender for the time period. Charlotte's actions in the book and the Captain's questioning of those actions really brought out the feminist in all of us. It was kind of fun to see the girls get all riled up.

So here it is, why the average rating? Well, quite simply, there is an equal number of good and bad things about the book. I don't think any of the girls would have picked this book up on their own. The main complaint while reading it was that it was "boring". It was only by encouraging them to finish it and discussing the book afterward that their opinions changed. However, I wonder if the excitement of arguing points about the book was what actually they liked, not the book itself. My thoughts: Charlotte was put in an unbelievable position (a 13 year old girl, alone, on a ship with a bunch of men) and asked to do several unbelievable tasks all to conform to a modern moral ideal. It was too contrived for me.
Profile Image for Jane Reddish.
180 reviews43 followers
March 1, 2021
For years, Avi's books have been floating around my to-be-read "raffle". Finally, I managed to read at least one book.
This is a story about a girl named Charlotte who became the only girl passenger aboard a ship with all-make crew. I like how the author wrote an authentic language that's set in its intended period. If you're into books with strong female lead on an adventure by the sea, check this out!
Profile Image for Sarah.
41 reviews1 follower
September 17, 2022
Honestly, middle-grade reader Sarah didn't read this book because there wasn't any romance. Hilarious of me. It's been sitting in my bookshelf for over 10 years, so I finally read it in two hours. There is indeed no romance, but I think middle-grade reader Sarah would have actually like it anyways.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,648 reviews

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