Caleb's Crossing Is No Snooze-Fest
My initial reaction to Caleb's Crossing was not unlike my reaction to Johnny Tremain circa 8th grade. In other words, a snooze-fest. The prose was written in ye olde English, which made it cumbersome to understand and left me wanting a translator. For example, the sentence "Once, on a stormy night two winter's since" left me wondering if they were talking about two years ago? In the future? What? When? I'm tired.
I got past the first couple chapters and found myself completely engrossed in this delicious tale of 17th century life on the East Coast - specifically in Martha's Vineyard and Cambridge, Massachusetts. The author, Geraldine Brooks, took a small factual piece of history -- a Native American boy from the Wampanoag tribe living on Martha's Vineyard becomes the first Native American to graduate from Harvard -- and weaves an entire story around it. The narrator is Bethia -- a spunky and intelligent girl who crosses paths with Caleb in their youth, setting off a series of events that keeps them connected for life.
I really loved this book. I loved the description of a primitive Martha's Vineyard, I loved the way Brooks gave Bethia the ability to be a forward and free-thinking woman without it seeming false given the century, and I loved how easily she intertwined the life of a young Native American boy with that of a colonial era preacher’s daughter.
Fair warning, though, this book is not all sunshine and glory days. There are a lot of sad things, which were troubling and depressing, especially in my current pregnant state. Of course, any historical fiction from this time will contain a fair amount of sorrow. In that, I thank this book for the perspective that while early America seems enchanting at times, it was also a fairly brutal place to live.
In the end, I highly recommend this book. Push through those first few chapters and the language will start to flow easily and you won’t find yourself re-reading sentences with a furrowed brow. The subtle history lesson will leave you feeling smart and the thought-provoking story will leave you satisfied.