Caleb's Crossing is Perfect Summer Vacation Reading

BlogHer Review

Note to self: Caleb's Crossing is not a place. Not like Shanklin’s Ferry, down below Bozoo in Monroe County West Virginia, where folks used to cross the river to reach Mercer County. No, Caleb’s Crossing is something else entirely. (Don't bother asking me why they wanted to cross the river down there, Mercer Mall and Outback weren't even built yet.)

Caleb’s Crossing is the latest book from Geraldine Brooks. Although she has written others, this is the first I have read. I wish I had time to read more -- a lot more, but, my son Seven is the age now where it just isn’t conducive. 2 years ago, yes. In fact, I read 52 books in 52 weeks. It was an experiment I absolutely loved. But I digress. Back to the book at hand.

I was supplied an advanced copy of Caleb’s Crossing to review. I’ll be honest – I judge a book by it’s cover. I do, in fact, like this cover. I like the picture, I like the font. What can I say? I’m a font person. Another piece of honesty? The blurb didn’t lure me right in. I hope it’s not because I am racist. I don’t think I am or ever have been. It just seemed so complicated -- Indians, Puritans, Harvard. An Indian in the 1600’s graduating from Harvard?

Surely you jest.

I know my history. I watch television all the time. And, I watched that mini-series with Keri Russell in it. Into the West? That’s it. Into the West. Didn’t they think Indians were animals? Maybe those Into the West writers had it all wrong. I remember distinctly Keri Russell telling someone that it didn’t hurt the Indian girl to have a baby because she was an animal. Or maybe she said magic. Either way, I just didn’t think Harvard allowed in magic animals.

Someone told me a story. Or maybe I should have paid better attention in American History instead of just flirting all the time. With the teacher.

All kidding aside, Caleb’s Crossing spins a piece of historical fiction so true to life that you forget it is fiction. Although it is based on a real person -- Caleb, in this case, who was a Native Indian from Martha’s Vineyard in the mid 1600s -- so much is left to the author to recreate and imagine. The history of this young man, the first Indian to graduate from Harvard, was somehow mostly lost, and Brooks took the task of bringing him to life once again. I enjoyed that she used a woman to tell the story, as I prefer when women write from a woman’s perspective. Don't you? It’s hard for me to buy into a man telling a woman’s story or vice versa. It’s weird. So, telling Caleb’s story in this way was comforting. Although the language is a bit unnerving at first (forewhore?), you quickly get used to it, and even find yourself talking that way in your mind as you bake cakes later in the day.

Forewhore.

That’s just funny.

But Caleb, though very important, isn’t the main focus of the book. It is our narrator, Bethia, that has the real story to tell. Trapped in a Puritan society and all that entails, Bethia yearns for education, love, freedom and adventure that is just not available to women of that era. It is her friendship with Caleb that bridges that which is missing in her life, and though things work out a little less pleasantly than one might hope, it is a beautifully written story and an very enjoyable read.

As a side note, one pretty wild fact is this… Harvard is 375 years old this year. 375. Isn’t that bizarre? I mean, I knew it was old, but wow. And in that time, only 2 Native Indians from Caleb’s tribe made it to Harvard graduation -- Caleb being the first, and then this year, the second, a young girl. Pretty crazy. But then again, it’s possible that only two West Virginians from Monroe County ever graduated Harvard. Or less. I have no idea.

I didn’t graduate from there, so that’s once less than there could have been.

Caleb’s Crossing is available on May 3 -- I highly suggest you pick it up. Perfect for that summer vacation you have planned. And you may learn something, too. Like, Harvard really did allow Indians in, and rich Englishmen actually PAID for Caleb to attend, so that they could well, convert those wild Indians. You’ll see how that all panned out.

If that’s not incentive enough, you can start throwing out the term forewhore anytime you feel like.

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