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The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

September 2, 2011

The Decatur Book Festival blows into town this weekend with hurricane-like literary force, and I along with many other bibliophiles will be roaming the streets of Decatur in search of presentations by various authors, workshops, and  good deals on some kick-ass books.  The whole thing begins in just a few hours (sorry, I’m a procrastinator) with a keynote address by the author Colin Meloy (who yes, also happens to be the frontman of the indie band The Decemberists) on his new young adult book Wildwood, the first of a forthcoming trilogy, with illustrations by his wife Carson Ellis (who yes, did the illustrations for The Mysterious Benedict Society as well as The Decemberists album covers).  It is extremely exciting to have a middle grade/young adult author be the keynote for such a prestigious festival and I believe it will help elevate the academic and professional perception of the genre.  But I am mentioning all this of this because I want to talk about another author coming to the festival, the award winning middle-grade author Avi who is coming tomorrow to talk about his newest book City of Orphans.  Unfortunately I have read neither Wildwood nor City of Orphans, but in honor of the Decatur Book Festival and Avi I have decided to review my favorite Avi book, the 1990 Newbery Honor winning The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.

Why is it that as adults we love “rags to riches” stories but as children we loved “princes (or princesses) to paupers” stories?  OK, I’ll admit that these type of stories may be adults’ sneaky way of teaching kids humility.  And granted, the prince/princess-type character and the pauper-type character often end up rich together at the end…but still.  Didn’t we love those stories because of the excitement?  The princess escapes her tower to have grand adventures among the people?  We loved it.  The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is just such a story.

The Blurbology:

It is the summer of 1832 when 13-year-old Charlotte Doyle steps onto the deck of the Seahawk for a trip across the Atlantic.  She is a girl on the threshold of being a proper lady.  After finishing her term at the Barrington School for Better Girls in England, Miss Doyle is sailing back to America to join her family.  In white gloves and petticoats and with a disdain for the filthy, uneducated sailors, Charlotte has no idea how dangerous, and transformative, this voyage will be.  Stowaways, mutiny, murder and betrayal await her on the high seas, but whose side is she on?  The refined but sadistic Captain Jaggery or the overworked mutinous crew?  Charlotte’s loyalties slowly change as the truth of who is truly savage on this ship emerges, and the consequences of her decision will lead to her being tried and convicted of murder.   Riveting and almost painfully lucid  The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle gives readers an uncompromising heroine–one whose decision to go against everything she knows leads to a different kind of education, and ultimately, a new life.

The Analysis:

What is truly brilliant about Avi is that he can write about violence in a way that will not frighten or turn away children from his storiesThe True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is a brutally violent story, yet I read it as a child and was not traumatized.  What made the story so bearable to my young mind was that Avi tells the story through the lenz of a thirteen-year-old female character, and a very sheltered and refined girl at that!  The reader truly understands how Charlotte is thinking, and why she makes the decisions she makes.  And although some of Charlotte’s decisions would have been highly improbable in 1832, the reader is satisfied because it is what we want her to do, what she really should do to redeem her character and make her a better person. ” But isn’t that a bad thing?” you may ask, “to tell a child that something so unrealistic could happen?”  Of course not.  Adult literature can be a mirror held up to show us our true flawed human nature, but the role of children’s literature has always been to instruct and enlighten in a positive way. Charlotte must see past her bourgeois upbringing because we must, even if in 1832 it would be scandalous and dangerous for a young woman to do what she does.  Furthermore, Charlotte becomes a fantastic strong female heroine for any young girl who is afraid to pursue something seen as socially unacceptable, even in our much less restrictive 21st century world, and although it may just be my aforementioned feminist side coming out, I believe that type of character is both necessary and timeless.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 13, 2011 8:28 pm

    Know what makes your work truly timeless? When you have only one name. I think Avi was born to be successful because you can’t deny the power of the single-name.

    That being said, I remember this book and I’m psyched to see you review it. Wanna make a date for the Sunday of the National Bookfest? September 25th!

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