The Emotional Journey in Caleb's Crossing

BlogHer Review

Fictionally based in the 1660’s -- when a girl's right to an education, opinion or voice weren't of any value -- Geraldine Brooks brings us Caleb's Crossing, the beautifully crafted story told exclusively through the eyes and voice of Bethia Mayfield, the young daughter of a Puritan minister on Martha's Vineyard. Growing up in the middle of the Puritanical settlement of Great Harbor, Bethia struggles with the internal battle over the spiritual beliefs instilled into her from an early age, and the supposedly evil things that she learns of and sees among the native Wampanoag also living on the island.

As her father toils to educate Bethia's dimwitted and often lazy older brother Makepeace, the message becomes clear to her that she has no need for learning anything outside of household responsibilities. It is during her brother and father's coveted lesson times that Bethia finds her curiosity taking her in exploration of the island’s mysteries. It is on such an excursion that she first meets Caleb, the young son of a Wampanoag chief. Though Bethia believes their friendship to be forbidden, the two children build a bond as they each share the spirituality and details of their lives, seemingly worlds apart. While she teaches him of books and Christianity, Caleb shares stories of his own gods and his people’s practices.

After tragedy strikes her family, Bethia’s father’s continuous attempts to convert the Wampanoag cause him to take notice of Caleb. Her father personally takes on the education of Caleb, bringing the secret friendship to entirely new depths and making it possible for Caleb to go on to become the first Native American to graduate from Harvard.

This story is as much a coming of age journey of a girl in a time women of our era might struggle to relate to as it is an eyewitness account of a Native American man who managed to accomplish great feats before his time… With a voice rich in detail, Brooks manages to show us how differently her characters confront and deal with the tension, inner struggles and tragedies that befall them, while still maintaining the integrity of her story. I found myself drawn to Bethia more and more, relating to her inner struggles, passions and aches. Though it seemed hard to get into at first, the painted imagery and well written emotion soon held my need to see their stories through.

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