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A Book that Changed My Life: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle Book Review

Updated on August 9, 2014

Reading Turned Reality

From the time that I was very small, I was always a voracious reader. I took to reading the Dragonlance series when I was in third grade, and I just couldn't get enough of fiction. I always had so many dimensions, worlds, and people occupying my mental space that having permission to retreat into those worlds through books was a gift almost too good to be true.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, however, was a book that I didn't pick up willingly. In 7th grade, we had a set list of books we could choose from to do our book reports on. Why did I choose True Confessions? To be honest, I'm not sure. Nothing about it would have appealed to the 7th grade me -- it wasn't a fantasy, it seemed too real, it looked historical, and what did I care about a prissy girl? But pick it up I did.

From the time I started reading The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, something in me began to change, and that change has continued to linger even into the present day. I went from being a shy, introverted school girl to being a genuine, adventurous, outgoing sailor aboard some of the oldest functioning ships in the world all because of one tiny book. That book taught me that I didn't have to do things the way I was "expected" to. And so, because of the thinking that that book started in me, I learned to sail for real. I traveled the world. I made a bucket list more daring than most and have accomplished much of it.

But what's Charlotte Doyle even about? Is it a good book for anyone to read, or is it only for kids? Check out some synopses, reviews, and comments below, as well as a picture slideshow of how I took Charlotte Doyle's experience and made my life as a sailor a reality. But just between you and me...READ IT.

Synopsis

What's The Story About? (No Major Plot Spoilers!)

I hate spoilers. They make me about as unhappy as a slug on a salt lick.

So, what's The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle about, anyway? Well, the story is set in 1832 in Liverpool. Charlotte, a young teenager, is looking for the Seahawk, the ship that will take her across the sea to Rhode Island to meet her family. For some reason, the other two families that were supposed to also be joining her on the voyage have not shown up -- she's concerned about being by herself among people she doesn't know, but she decides to get on the ship anyway. As she's boarding the ship, she sees a shadowy figure also sneak on. Uh oh.

Once Charlotte is onboard and the ship begins to make way, she meets the captain, whose name is Captain Jaggery. Like Charlotte, Jaggery is a well-dressed, well-mannered person, and they take to each other quickly. After Jaggery asks Charlotte to be his personal watchdog around the ship (to make the sure crewmembers aren't doing anything fishy...and probably to get her out of the way while he sails the ship), she wanders for a bit and meets Zachariah, a black cook onboard. As they begin to talk, Zachariah reveals to Charlotte that Captain Jaggery was not quite so nice on their last voyage -- he was very mean to some of the crewmembers, beating them badly. Charlotte doesn't believe it, but Zachariah gives her a dagger anyway, to make sure she can protect herself. He also fishes up some small sailor's clothes in case Charlotte needs new clothing at some point.

As the ship continues across the sea, Charlotte begins to see strange things happening on the ship -- things most people would call "omens" or even "spirits." She tells herself it's probably nothing, but she keeps an eye out anyway. Then, one night, Charlotte accidentally overhears some very, very important information that's going to change her life in ways she never expected! After that, the story escalates fast into dramatic showdowns, confrontations of justice, and an impressive upset that throws Charlotte right into being a crewmember herself.

As Charlotte must learn how to crew such a big and complex ship, she finds enemies new and old as well as some unexpected friends. But along the way, it seems that she's been wrapped up in a thick plot of intrigue that intends to send her all the way to the noose! Why condemn a young, fragile lady to death by hanging? It turns out that the life of a sailor is far more complicated than she could ever have imagined.

As Charlotte contemplates the web of plots and schemes she's been tangled in -- and some she created herself -- she thinks of her family in Rhode Island. They would never believe any of the things she's been writing about in her journal! As a time of judgment closes in around her, Charlotte must make the final decision about where her heart -- and her very life -- truly belong. And perhaps that is wrapped up in the center of the storm.

How Did It Change Me?

By now, you're probably wondering, "But what actually HAPPENED in your life as a result of reading True Confessions? I get it. You like boats. So what? Is that all this book did for you?"

That, my friends, is a gross understatement.

The part of the story that affected me the most was Charlotte's actually learning to sail. Once she was forced to be a crewmember, she had to learn quickly. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle's impressive writing style really wowed me with its attention to detail as she learns the parts and functions of the ship yet never gets boring. I read about how Charlotte learned to sail, and something about that just enchanted me.

Not because I wanted to be a pirate, or a midshipman, or anything like that. Not even because I had some fanciful image of me foregrounded against the sunset standing on some ship victoriously as the sails come down around me. I knew that wasn't reality. So, to be honest, I have no idea what made the hard, hard work that Charlotte did seem so appealing. But it was.

For about three years after I read that book, I'd think now and again about Charlotte and about me. Who was I kidding? I'd never have the chance to even see a ship like the one she sailed on -- you know, one of those old, pretty ones like in The Pirates of the Caribbean. But still, somewhere in the back of mind, I continued to make a commitment to myself to find a way to experience what Charlotte did.

I would become a sailor. I promised myself.

Strangely enough, once I made that commitment, things went faster than I'd ever expected. Not three months later, I discovered just such a ship very near me, and I scheduled a meeting with its captain, Wesley Heerssen, to ask to join his crew. What on earth was I thinking? Like Charlotte, I was also just a teenager. But I was determined to learn to sail.

And by golly, Captain Wes welcomed me aboard, no prior training or anything, with open arms.

Thus began my real-life excursion into the world that Charlotte Doyle experienced -- the world of a real, hard working sailor. I learned quickly that sailing is infinitely harder than they ever make it seem in movies and books. But I refused to quit. And that resilience, which first came into me on that ship, has stayed with me ever since and has provided the fuel I needed to travel around the world and do all of the amazing things I have.

My Ship Log -- Read My True Story

Thankfully for all of you, my time on that real old ship, the Flagship Niagara (originally built in 1812), got jotted down by yours truly into a ship log! I kept track of what I did on the ship, and just recently I've finally compiled that diary online -- complete with pictures and video. You can find the first two installments of the 13-post series below. Don't worry -- all the posts are on my blog, so once you've read these two, keep going!

Pictures of My Life after Charlotte Doyle - All photos are mine, taken from my sailing life (starting in 2010) through my participation in the Battle of Lake Er

Click thumbnail to view full-size
That's me! I'm up on the main topgallant yard. See what you did to me, Charlotte Doyle?The moment that we shoot the cannons on Niagara looks something like this.Captain Wes stands on the bridge deck to keep an eye on the Denis Sullivan behind us.The Europa, which sailed all the way from the Netherlands to join us on Lake Ontario.The Flagship Niagara in port at a festival.Dunnage the cat, our ship's steadfast companion, sleeping in the docklines.Me along with the rest of the cannon crew posing after we'd just fired a shot.A view of the deck and cannons toward the bow.Isaiah up at the very tip top of the mast adjusting a part of the royal yard's mechanics.Furling and dock-stowing sail.The Lynx, one of our sister ships, returning fire from any enemy ship.The Niagara receiving it's new commodore in the middle of a battle. He'd just transferred from an out-of-commission ship.The Niagara firing one of her good ol' cannon shots.The Niagara and the Pride of Baltimore circle around an enemy ship, the Sorlandet (from Norway) to deliver a double broadsides fire.This is our commodore!A view directly up into the rigging.
That's me! I'm up on the main topgallant yard. See what you did to me, Charlotte Doyle?
That's me! I'm up on the main topgallant yard. See what you did to me, Charlotte Doyle?
The moment that we shoot the cannons on Niagara looks something like this.
The moment that we shoot the cannons on Niagara looks something like this.
Captain Wes stands on the bridge deck to keep an eye on the Denis Sullivan behind us.
Captain Wes stands on the bridge deck to keep an eye on the Denis Sullivan behind us.
The Europa, which sailed all the way from the Netherlands to join us on Lake Ontario.
The Europa, which sailed all the way from the Netherlands to join us on Lake Ontario.
The Flagship Niagara in port at a festival.
The Flagship Niagara in port at a festival.
Dunnage the cat, our ship's steadfast companion, sleeping in the docklines.
Dunnage the cat, our ship's steadfast companion, sleeping in the docklines.
Me along with the rest of the cannon crew posing after we'd just fired a shot.
Me along with the rest of the cannon crew posing after we'd just fired a shot.
A view of the deck and cannons toward the bow.
A view of the deck and cannons toward the bow.
Isaiah up at the very tip top of the mast adjusting a part of the royal yard's mechanics.
Isaiah up at the very tip top of the mast adjusting a part of the royal yard's mechanics.
Furling and dock-stowing sail.
Furling and dock-stowing sail.
The Lynx, one of our sister ships, returning fire from any enemy ship.
The Lynx, one of our sister ships, returning fire from any enemy ship.
The Niagara receiving it's new commodore in the middle of a battle. He'd just transferred from an out-of-commission ship.
The Niagara receiving it's new commodore in the middle of a battle. He'd just transferred from an out-of-commission ship.
The Niagara firing one of her good ol' cannon shots.
The Niagara firing one of her good ol' cannon shots.
The Niagara and the Pride of Baltimore circle around an enemy ship, the Sorlandet (from Norway) to deliver a double broadsides fire.
The Niagara and the Pride of Baltimore circle around an enemy ship, the Sorlandet (from Norway) to deliver a double broadsides fire.
This is our commodore!
This is our commodore!
A view directly up into the rigging.
A view directly up into the rigging.

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Read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle for Yourself!

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

This is a newer, prettier cover on the same old book that changed me for the better. It's quite a story, so check it out!

 
Summary & Study Guide The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Edward Irving Wortis
Summary & Study Guide The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Edward Irving Wortis

If you're looking for a good companion to the book, or if you only want a summary, this BookRags synopsis is the thing for you.

 

Have you read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle? What did you think? Do you want to read it now if you haven't?

Questions? Comments? Talk to me!

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    • Aladdins Cave profile image

      Aladdins Cave 2 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      Great review, so good in fact, I'm going to TWEET it.

      You should get some more readers then.

      Come say hello on one of my Hubs, let me know if your still

      around :)

      Cheers from DOWNUNDER

    • carrieott profile image
      Author

      carrieott 3 years ago

      @Essy K: I was actually thinking about rereading it soon. I'm glad to hear that you liked it too!

    • Essy K profile image

      Essy K 3 years ago from South Dakota

      I've read the book and I loved it!

    • carrieott profile image
      Author

      carrieott 3 years ago

      @Gypzeerose: Wow, thanks so much! That's really an amazing comment! :) Hopefully I've inspired people to read some more books and discover new things too.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 3 years ago

      I am very inspired by your tale of sailing - my vote for the life changing book quest.

    • carrieott profile image
      Author

      carrieott 3 years ago

      @Susan Zutautas: Awesome! That's great to hear! It's a pretty quick read, so it'd be nice to maybe read it on a sunny day outside. :)

    • Susan Zutautas profile image

      Susan Zutautas 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I've never read Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, but would like to read it.

    • carrieott profile image
      Author

      carrieott 3 years ago

      @jennabeezer: Isn't it just a great book! Glad that you got to read it too! I was just thinking myself that I should start rereading it. :)

    • profile image

      jennabeezer 4 years ago

      Yes! This was a stand-out book from grade school that I remember LOVING! A friend recommended it to me, and it was definitely worth reading. I always found that the Newbery endorsement was helpful when I chose books from the school library. I think it's time for a re-read. :)