Caleb's Crossing: Bethia's Journey

BlogHer Review

When I was recently picked to review Geraldine Brooks latest novel Caleb's Crossing, I was slightly less than excited. I love to read, but not usually historical fiction. Where is the fun in that? I didn't even like history in college much less pretend history. However, I was surprised each night as I stayed up reading way past my bed time. Making a promise to myself with every page that I turned, that it would be my last for the evening. Oh, how I lied.

Caleb's Crossing is a fictionalized take on the true story of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard in the late 1600s. The story is written as if it was the diary of a young Puritan woman named Bethia Mayfield. Bethia is a minister's daughter who longs for an education that, due to her gender, is out of her reach. As a child living in a small settlement known as Great Harbor, Bethia meets Caleb the son of a Wampanoag chieftain. They come from completely different backgrounds, yet their lives are forever intertwined. Bethia teaches Caleb to read and tries to convert him to her Christian god, but she is not the only teacher. Caleb shares his island secrets and his native language with Bethia. Through a chain of events Caleb is sent off to study at Cambridge, but Bethia is able to remain involved as she is reluctantly indentured as a housekeeper.

Bethia is an amazing individual. The story told through her eyes, is riveting yet heart wrenching for a woman like myself. I am so proud of the way Bethia handled her limitations. Things that we consider so natural were strongly discouraged back then. As an example, Bethia was discouraged from learning to read, but she challenged the society around her even if she wasn't always vocal about it.

One of the benefits of Geraldine telling this story through Bethia's eyes is that she had free reign to develop the situations to fit the character rather than the character to fit the situation. Who knows what it would have been like if it were told from Caleb's perspective. I felt like Caleb's character was not fully explored. I know the book is titled Caleb's Crossing based on Caleb crossing between cultures, but I feel like we missed out on so much of his actual journey. This was truly the tale of Bethia's journey.

All and all, I highly recommend this book. Like I previously stated, I had very minimal expectations when I first picked it up, however it thrilled me to be so wrong.


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