Monday, June 20, 2011

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi


Man, I loved this book as a kid. So when I spotted a copy in a used book store, I simply couldn't resist. I had to see if it was as good as I remembered. I shouldn't have worried.

The first time you revisit a beloved book from your childhood is always a bit unnerving . . . what if it sucks? What if it's stupid? What if you had terrible taste in books as a kid? What if you still have terrible taste in books?

Fortunately, this book stands up well to the test of time and maturity, though that's hardly surprising in a book written by Avi. It's still a compelling tale of high adventure, justice, social norms, prejudice, guilt, restitution, cruelty, mercy, fear . . . and a pretty empowering (and effective) upending of traditional gender roles.

Charlotte is just your average gentleman's daughter, on a merchant ship bound for America to be reunited with her family after finishing a year at boarding school. The other gentlefolk who were to accompany her back out at the last minute, and she ends up being the only passenger on the ship with a bunch of rough sailors and the captain they hate. Throughout her journey she learns a lot about who to trust, what to admire, and what she herself is capable of.

One note that rings false in this otherwise excellent and gripping book is [SPOILER] her willingness at the end of the story to abandon her family and return to her new life as a sailor. Yes, her family does not understand the changes she went through. Yes, they are still rigidly stuck in their belief that a captain is a gentleman and thus trustworthy and good and sailors are common and vulgar. Yes, she has grown to despise her constricting women's clothes. And yes, she's been away from them for quite some time already because of her stint at boarding school. But still, they are her family. And just because the crew was willing to accept her as one of their own on a bizarre crossing where they were short-handed doesn't mean they will accept her has a crew member for the foreseeable future. Also, as a young woman, she is particularly vulnerable to violence and other ills if cooped up on a ship with a bunch of men for months at a time.

But other than that, the book is quite good--thoroughly enjoyable and eminently readable.

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