Caleb's Crossing is Engrossing and Richly Detailed
When I first received Caleb's Crossing Caleb's Crossing, it felt a lot like homework. I had one of those “what have I gotten myself into” moments, when I thought about all the work stuff I had to do and my three small kids -- how would I ever read an entire novel? What if I didn’t like it?
It didn’t take long before I became completely engrossed in the world of Bethia and Caleb. The rich descriptive detail of life in 17th Century New England (Martha’s Vineyard and Cambridge, Massachusetts) drew me right in. In spite of all my other obligations, I finished the entire book in less than four days! In my opinion, the best books are the ones that you can’t put down, and Caleb’s Crossing was one of those books.
Caleb was the real-life first Native American to graduate from Harvard. Brooks uses historical fact to weave a vivid fictional account of what his life may have been like. His story is told through his best friend, Bethia’s, eyes. First they meet as children, and through a set of unusual circumstances she is able to accompany him to college.
Moments of sadness and loss are found throughout the novel -- moments I can't tell you about without giving away the plot. I can say that I wiped away tears twice. It struck me how safe our lives are now, four hundred years later.
There were themes of belonging versus being an outsider, of opening doors that are closed to women or minorities, of “crossing” between two worlds. I always appreciate books that I think about when I’m not actively reading. I found myself thinking about Caleb’s Crossing many times as I went about the rest of my day, and again since I’ve finished reading. This book gave me a lot to think about.
While the book spans the lives of the main characters from childhood to adulthood, I don’t think of it as a “coming of age” story. The main characters know who they are and remain as true to themselves and each other as they can within the confines of their strict, Puritanical society.
This story prompted me to do a little of my own research into the story. Caleb has his own Wikipedia page, but don’t read it - it’ll spoil the whole end of the book. There is a great deal of information on the time period available online, including a recently unveiled portrait of Caleb at Harvard, an archaeological dig taking place in Harvard Yard, and a useful map of Martha’s Vineyard (it's bigger than I expected it to be). That’s one thing I love about historical fiction -- the story doesn’t have to stop when the book is over.
Reading Caleb's Crossing also made me eager to read other books by Brooks. In particular, I've added Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women to my "to read" list. One of my personal criteria for a good book is that it leaves me wanting to read more by the author. This book met that benchmark.
I would highly recommend Caleb’s Crossing to anyone who enjoys reading about Puritans, New England, Harvard, Native Americans, or historical fiction in general.