The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle - Avi
I'm sure I would have loved this book if I had read it when young. It certainly has plenty of dramatic interest.

Looking at it from an adult perspective, the thing that intrigues me the most is how careful the author is about depicting the social background that Charlotte comes from, and its influence on her. While books featuring active, independent, egalitarian women in historical settings are dime-a-dozen nowadays, the authors are not always careful to make these traits plausible, growing out of their background. After all, a person is always a product of their times: even if untypical, they're untypical in a way related to their culture -- and that's just what Charlotte is. And Avi doesn't back away from showing that her choices are likely to alienate her from many people; her social isolation could have serious negative consequences outside the world of her hard-won friends on the Seahawk.

It's interesting to compare this to a book Avi wrote two decades earlier, Emily Upham's Revenge. I found that the main characters of these two stories, Emily Upham and Charlotte Doyle, have a lot in common. They are 19th-century girls of good family who've been educated to be well-mannered, quiet, proper, obedient and respectful to their elders (especially men), mindful of their social status, and not interested in their inferiors -- and they have been perfectly happy to believe and follow these rules, and have never felt any inclination toward rebellion. But these stories put them into stressful situations where they realize that the only reason those principles have seemed like a sufficient code of conduct in the past is because they've been sheltered and pampered. Thrown up against the ugliness of the outside world, they find that they must abandon some of them if they are to maintain any self-respect, because to strictly follow their upbringing would mean betraying a friend. The main difference between them is that Emily Upham's Revenge was written for a younger audience and is considerably lighter in tone, with its dilemmas being less deadly; Emily is younger than Charlotte (only 7) and more childishly helpless.