Caleb's Crossing: A new favorite

BlogHer Review

A package arrived in the mail for me. I excitedly opened the wrapping that I knew contained my first ever book club book... Caleb’s Crossing, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks. There it was just waiting to be read and reviewed. I had a week to read it, and I couldn’t wait to get started. I quickly scanning the cover and then flipped to the first page.

My impression after page 1? All I could think was “How am I EVER going to read this book? Forget about finishing it in time to review it. I’m just never going to be able to finish it, period.” You see... I don’t usually read novels by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors. I also don’t usually read historical fiction. I will admit it -- lately all I tend to read is “fluff.” So, after the first page I panicked a little and wondered how I was going to find the time to focus and really follow a novel written in the language and style of the late 1600s. I seriously considered mailing the book back and saying “I’m really sorry... I just can’t do it.”

I spent three days avoiding Caleb’s Crossing. Every time I looked at the cover I dreaded the thought of picking it up. I suddenly had less than five days to read a book that had me nervous. So, I pretended I was a student with an assignment, I locked myself in my room, and I plunged in without looking back.

My impression after the final page? Wow. Just... WOW.

I have to say, after less than a dozen pages, I was completely drawn in. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to settle into the language and writing style. Looking at it now, there is such a beauty to it. Re-reading the first page I can’t even pick out what had me so nervous. It became natural.

Caleb’s Crossing is a work of fiction inspired by the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. It takes place in and around 1660 during the time of the Puritan settlers. The story is told from the viewpoint of Bethia Mayfield, a young girl who is the daughter of a minister. Her family lives on Martha’s Vineyard, and her father is trying to convert the Native Americans to Christianity. At the age of 12 Bethia has a chance meeting with Caleb, and their lives become intertwined.

The book’s title, Caleb’s Crossing is so appropriate for Caleb’s journey. I found myself associating the title so many time’s throughout the book with what Caleb was doing. Multiple times I found myself thinking “OH... that’s what Caleb’s “crossing” is!” That said, I also felt that the book could very easily have been called Bethia’s Crossing. While I was impressed with Caleb’s story, and marveled at his courage and character... I was more drawn to Bethia.

Bethia survived a lifetime of tragedy and struggling before she even made it out of her teen years. She was a child who needed to take on the life of an adult. Her’s was a story of a young girl being forced to grow up too quickly and needing to find herself and know her beliefs in a time when women weren’t always thought to have a “self” or their own set thoughts. She was smart and quick witted, but living in a time when that was frowned upon. Women generally weren’t expected or encouraged to learn or strive to be educated. They were to be good daughters. Good wives. Good mothers. Good housekeepers. Good Christians. It was fascinating to imagine Bethia just living her life.

Even with my VERY slow start with this book I can now easily add it to my list of favorites. Perhaps because I had a difficult start I’m even more fond of having been won over.

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