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May 9, 2011

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

Caleb's Crossing: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Viking Adult (May 3, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-0670021048
Review Copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Review Rating: 4.5 stars

After hearing much ado about Geraldine Brooks and her previous novels such as March, or Year of Wonders, I knew I could not pass this one up. I am not sure what I expected from this novel, but it wasn't exactly what I envisioned. Which is fantastic, because I think I enjoyed it that much more. Although the title and the premise follow along the path of Caleb, it was the fictional Bethia that was the narrator of the story and who sucked me in to this one. As Bethia is learning to grow into a respectable (and quiet) young woman in the late 1600's, she meets an Indian she calls Caleb. Her family is on a small island they called Great Harbor, now known as Martha's Vineyard, as her father taught and attempted to convert the heathenistic Wampanoag Indians to his religion of Calvinism.

We follow the path of these two young people and their families as their lives intersect and clash with their different values all the while Bethia tells us the story of her experiences with Caleb. She tells us of the school they go to in Cambridge, and of the prejudices that were abundant in those days as well as the smallest details that turn a simple story into one that is woven seamlessly into an evocative historical account. The prose of Geraldine Brooks was a bit to get used to at first, but as the character of Bethia warmed up to her story, I began to envision myself leafing through Bethia's written thoughts as if it were yesterday. Bethia was the star in this story, despite whatever intentions the author had to make it out to be Caleb.

Bethia was strong-willed, smart, and persevered through so much tragedy that I had to physically force myself to not cry out for her sorrow. And yet, with the grief painstakingly so well written, I was so eager to learn how Bethia would overcome this. She did overcome, and lost many, and Geraldine Brooks did Caleb's memory a great turn by giving him such a special friend as Bethia was shown to be. There were subtle facets and layers to the characters in Bethia's life, from her parents to her brother and of course, Caleb. The fated meeting of Bethia and Caleb set the two on a course that was dangerous to both of their positions in society, and I was intrigued to see how they would turn out.

Most of this marvelous story is fiction and dramatic license, yet the author drew on the bare minimum available regarding Caleb's real story to give us a piece of early Americana, offering us the struggles of the settlers versus those of the natives. And along the way, we are treated to a magnificently developing storyline of Bethia as we hope she finds true love and is able to display her keen intelligence even though she is a woman who was expected to tend to family matters quietly.

I loved this story both for Bethia's plights and for the historical significance of my country. I am always saddened how the Indians were treated during the colonization, yet Caleb's Crossing shows there were some who believed in their abilities and were willing to co-exist peacefully. This is a great read for those who enjoy reading coming of age type stories, and for those who would like to learn a bit more about America during the late 1600's. You will not forget the story of Bethia and Caleb.