Caleb's Crossing: Bethia Is a Heroine

BlogHer Review

By the end of the story, I still wanted to know more of Bethia, the main character in Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. As a minister’s daughter myself, I found myself relating to Bethia on many levels. Growing up I would often wonder if this was what life was all about, this life I found myself living. I wondered what was “out there,” I wondered what those people believed that lived differently than me, I just wondered. Bethia, too, was restless and curious about life outside of her own community.

In the book, Caleb’s Crossing, Geraldine Brooks weaves a tale that I could hardly put down. This actually surprised me because usually I do not enjoy books that are set during this time period (1600’s-1700’s). But this story was so different, so unique, that it gripped me almost from the beginning.

Bethia, the narrator, is a young girl growing up in somewhat of a missionary family. Her father is a minister and they moved to the islands to share the gospel with the Wampanoag Indians. Bethia’s family is a strict, Puritan, religious family. Yet, as Bethia grows up on this island, she learns that the Wampanoag’s don’t know anything about her One True God. In fact, they believe in many gods or spirits.

When Bethia is a young girl, around 11-12yrs old, she happens to meet a young Wampanoag boy whom she names Caleb, as she is out exploring the island one day. The friendship they form is so unlikely, so mysterious, so secretive, so up and down, so moving and so free. Caleb and Bethia form quite a relationship as they teach each other their languages, customs and way of life.

Bethia goes on quite the journey through her life. Her journey is one of faith, beliefs, her role as a female, her place in the family, friendship, identity and much more. I can hardly describe all the changes and horrors that Bethia lives through. It truly is a tale of sorrow, yet hope. Bethia longs to be educated and to be allowed to read and learn like her brother and all the males. She longs to study and speak the Latin, Hebrew and Greek that are taught to male students. She longs to live a life that is not hers to live.

I think that is the reason so many of us can relate to Bethia. Even if we are not a minister’s daughter, we can relate to wondering what life could be like if it was a life different from our own. We wish for things we cannot have. We think life would be better “If only…”

And that is the journey of Bethia and even Caleb through this tale, which is based on the true story of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Their journey is often heartbreaking, but I can honestly say that this story left me satisfied. So many times I get to the end of a book and wonder, “What next???” But, in this book, we see the beginning and end of a life well lived. We see the span of Bethia’s life and know the painfully long journey she has been on. There are still parts in the middle that I might have liked to know, but this story ends in a place where I am at peace with knowing how it ends.

I cannot imagine living in the time period that we find Bethia and Caleb from this book. I cannot imagine having so many tragedies in one lifetime. I cannot imagine how physically and spiritually difficult it would be to live in such a place. But, Bethia is a heroine. She is strong. She perseveres. She finds happiness in the midst of a terribly difficult life. I think that is what we all long for… peace and contentment even though life isn’t always easy. You will find that and more in the book, Caleb’s Crossing.

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