Book Review: Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

Narrated by a young girl during the settling of America, Caleb’s Crossing is the story of Bethia’s friendship with an Indian (Native American) boy as she follows his ‘crossing’ into English society and ultimately, Harvard College.

The daughter of a Puritan preacher, Bethia is aware of her place as a female – she was to become a wife and a mother, and so her education was of little importance, so long as there were jobs to be done. But the sharp-witted and feisty teenager wasn’t content to sit back and watch her brother receive the schooling he didn’t want so she took it on herself to keep up with his classes (provided in their home).

During this time Bethia had a chance encounter with an Indian boy from the nearby tribe. The two quickly formed a secret friendship and taught each other about their worlds.

Unhappy with her lot in life, Bethia began to question not only the rules of her establishment but her faith in God also.

As fate would have it, the boy who Bethia had given the Christian name Caleb one day came to live with Bethia and her family for schooling. He soon proved his intelligence and began on the path that would lead him to university in Cambridge.

This story is not so much Caleb’s Crossing as Bethia’s.

Narrated in a memoir-style journey through Bethia’s coming of age, it does tell the story of Harvard’s first Indian graduate however the reflections are those of Bethia’s.

Written in the language of 17th century American Puritans, it is an authentic experience. Once the meanings of ‘tegs’ and ‘bever’ have been deciphered the reader settles into the world with ease.

(I will admit I had to re-read a paragraph from time to time as I had missed a vital part of conversation or description due to the language.)

If I have one criticism it would be the amount of times Bethia listed exactly what had been prepared for meals. We don’t need to know exactly what they ate, every time (although I realise that as a woman in this setting, mealtimes were a large portion of her work and thus, important to her).

The island setting reveals itself to be what is now known as Martha’s Vineyard, and the visual description is stunning. I longed for Bethia to take more journeys to the beach or lake, just to read more about the beautiful vista.

I was initially hesitant about reading this book. It had however received rave reviews and more importantly been given to me as a gift from my best friend. It was an enthralling read.

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