Coming of Age in Puritanical America: Caleb's Crossing

BlogHer Review

In a black and white world of the late 17th century America, a young pioneer girl struggles with the shades of gray.

Geraldine Brooks' novel, Caleb's Crossing, is a story of two very different children coming of age and struggling to understand the world around them.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Bethia, a young Puritan girl in the late 1600s who lives on a island that we later learn is present day Martha's Vineyard. After being denied an education and losing her twin brother, she secretly befriends Caleb, the son of a Wampanoag Chieftan.

While the story follows Caleb's struggle to be accepted and educated in a white man's world, the true story lies with Bethia, who is also struggling to make sense of the two different worlds she sees. As a reader, I was drawn in by her curiosity of the Native Americans with their pagan religious beliefs and her rebellion against the very restrictive and controlled women's place in this pioneer age of America.

The setting accentuates the wildness and strong sense of nature on the island, contrasting sharply with the Puritans' very strict religion and rules.

Caleb and Bethias both constantly feel their souls are in balance and their actions questioned on all sides. Bethias believes her mother's death is a punishment for her sins. Caleb's soul is "stretched like a rope in tug-o-war" between his shaman uncle and Bethia's minister father who is determined to convert the tribe.

Both have a difficult journey that is made more vivid through Geraldine Brooks' incredible description and language. The setting and time period felt authentic, and I'm blown away by the research that must have gone into this novel.

It's a must-read book that will have you appreciating the equal rights we currently enjoy in America as well as the struggle so many have gone through to achieve it for all of us.

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