Caleb's Crossing is Food For Thought

BlogHer Review

Caleb's Crossing tells a fictionalized version of the life of the first Native American to attend and graduate from Harvard, in the late 1600s. The story is told through the eyes and voice of Bethia Mayfield, daughter of a missionary on what is to become Martha's Vineyard and creates a story out of the few sparse details known about Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck.

I started reading this book not really knowing what to expect. And in a lot of ways, I think that helped me keep my mind open to whatever was coming my way. I really enjoyed reading Caleb's Crossing. It had a bit of a slow start for me; it took a couple of pages before I realized that the narrator was female (but that was likely me being dense and not having read the back of the book rather than the fault of the author) and a few chapters before I was fully on-board with the language of the times. As I got deeper into Caleb's Crossing, the more riveted I became. Obviously, we all know the ending: Caleb eventually graduates from Harvard. But the journey he made from his childhood to his graduation is virtually unknown, and this is the fodder Brooks used to give life to her story. How did Caleb come to learn English (and Latin and Greek)? Why did he choose this path over the path his uncle laid out for him?

I very much enjoyed the first-hand descriptions of the life of a female Puritan missionary in the 1600s. I cannot even begin to comprehend some of the hardships Bethia faced in her life. Things like no running water or electricity. Or even more rudimentary - that she was discouraged from learning to READ, because it was believed that such knowledge would addle the fragile female mind. I found myself smiling often and giving a mental "Go girl!" when Bethia would challenge some of these backwards beliefs and "Woo-hoo!" when she would win some of those battles.

This is not a hilarious romp kind of book. It's more a food for thought, chew on it for a couple of hours and think it through kind of book. In fact, chewy is the word I would use to describe it to someone. You need to digest this book and think about the issues it raises, but it's very satisfying and compelling for all its chewiness.


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