Caleb's Crossing

Caleb's Crossing

by Geraldine Brooks


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A bestselling tale of passion and belief, magic and adventure from the author of The Secret Chord and of March, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Bethia Mayfield is a restless and curious young woman growing up in Martha's vineyard in the 1660s amid a small band of pioneering English Puritans. At age twelve, she meets Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a secret bond that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia's father is a Calvinist minister who seeks to convert the native Wampanoag, and Caleb becomes a prize in the contest between old ways and new, eventually becoming the first Native American graduate of Harvard College. Inspired by a true story and narrated by the irresistible Bethia, Caleb’s Crossing brilliantly captures the triumphs and turmoil of two brave, openhearted spirits who risk everything in a search for knowledge at a time of superstition and ignorance.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143121077
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/24/2012
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 126,808
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Geraldine Brooks is the author of five novels: the Pulitzer Prize-winning March; the international bestsellers Caleb's CrossingPeople of the Book, and Year of Wonders; and, most recently, The Secret Chord. She has also written the acclaimed nonfiction works Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence. Born and raised in Australia, she lives on Martha's Vinyard with her husband, the author Tony Horwitz, and their two sons.

Reading Group Guide


Living in the isolated Puritan settlement of Great Harbor on Martha's Vineyard, Bethia Mayfield, the bright young daughter of the local minister, balances her strict religion with a passionate love of nature and a growing curiosity about the culture of the Wampanoag tribe that populates the island. When Bethia secretly strikes up a friendship with a young Wampanoag named Caleb, she unknowingly begins a journey that will shape her life. Intelligent, independent, and kind, Bethia is the narrator and the heart of Geraldine Brooks's stunning new novel, Caleb's Crossing, the story of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, who in 1665 became the very first Native American to graduate from Harvard.

Torn between her commitment to her religion and her family and her longing for freedom and intellectual fulfillment, Bethia is a young woman built of contradictory desires. With Caleb, she finds an escape from her stern and pious community in which women are expected to be silent and subservient, the community that denies Bethia an education simply because of her gender. But for all the freedom that Caleb inspires in her, he struggles to understand her dogged sense of duty and deference. Even as he chooses to adopt her religion, he encourages her to rebel and questions the obedience at the root of her faith.

Their relationship is soon upended as Caleb comes to live with Bethia's family so that he can be groomed to enter a preparatory school in Cambridge along with her elder brother, Makepeace. Living under the same roof yet forced to keep their earlier friendship hidden, Bethia watches Caleb blossom under the tutelage she so craves. When a tragedy befalls the Mayfield family, Makepeace's hope for entering Harvard suddenly rests on Bethia's shoulders, demanding that she sacrifice her pride and her freedom to make his education possible. The shifting boundaries of Bethia's complex and profound relationship with Caleb change with their arrival together in Cambridge; as he enters school, Bethia becomes an indentured servant, and while their lives move in markedly different directions, their friendship endures.

Caleb's Crossing follows Bethia and Caleb from Grand Harbor to Cambridge and beyond, charting not only their crossing of the stretch of ocean between island and mainland but of the vast—and sometimes unbridgeable—expanse between Native American and white settler, between pagan and Christian, and between male and female. Brooks has built a world of emotion, struggle, and natural beauty in which the balance between the traditions of the past and the potential of the future are captured in the lives of two young friends.


Geraldine Brooks is the author of six books, including the novel Year of Wonders and the nonfiction workNine Parts of Desire; her second novel, March, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2006. Earlier in her career, Brooks was a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and was stationed in Bosnia, Somalia, and the Middle East. Born in Australia, she currently divides her time between Martha's Vineyard and Sydney.


Q. In writing a historical novel such as Caleb's Crossing, what is the balance between detective work and pure imagination? Could you briefly describe your research and writing process?

I like to follow the line of fact as far as it leads, so I do a vast amount of research. But I always make sure that the story drives it, which means I wait for the narrative to tell me what it is I need to know. So I write for a while, then go to archives or to interview experts, then I come back and incorporate what I have learned into the fiction. I don't always follow the facts—sometimes the story needs to veer away from them for a while. And that's why I always include an afterword, to set out the truth as far it is known and to show where my novel has deviated from it.

Q. Your first novel, Year of Wonders, also takes place in the seventeenth century. What is it about this time period you find so inspiring? Did any of the information you gained researching that novel help your work on Caleb's Crossing?

It is a rich period to me because the modern mind is emerging from the medieval mind, and you can sense the struggle. When you read some of the writings of people who lived in the mid-seventeenth century, they are recognizable—you understand their predicaments, you get their jokes. Yet at other times you encounter minds formed by a worldview quite alien to our own. It's the time Newton is shaping modern scientific thought, and yet witches are still being burned at the stake. I was familiar with all this from Year of Wonders. Anna Frith's small community was largely puritan—the kind of people who might have taken ship for the new England colonies if they'd had the means.

Q. The relationship between the white settlers and Native American population has always been a difficult one, and the creation of the Massachusetts colony still has political ramifications today. As someone who didn't grow up in the United States, what is your relationship to these events? Are there comparable events in Australian history?

Australia too has a brutal history of dispossession of its Aboriginal inhabitants. But as I was researching the book, I was astonished to discover that I have a direct ancestor who almost certainly knew Caleb. My some-number-of-greats grandfather was Ephriam Cutter, a glazier in Cambridge in the 1660s. His sister was the wife of Elijah Corlett, the schoolmaster who prepared Caleb for Harvard. So I had a closer relationship to these events than I had ever imagined.

Q. As you note in the afterword, the facts of Caleb's life are barely known. What was it about his story that made you think it had the potential to be a novel?

The questions: Who was this remarkable young scholar? How did he get to Harvard? What was Harvard like in the 1660s? And on, and on. As soon as I learned of Caleb, I was intrigued, and I found that I couldn't stop thinking about him and speculating on what his experience might have been.

Q. Both Caleb and Bethia are placed in set roles by society because of his race and because of her gender. In looking at their respective journeys in the novel, would it be fair to say that Caleb's struggle is to exist between two worlds while Bethia's struggle is to try to flourish within one?

Yes, I think that is a very apt way to describe it.

Q. As a narrator, Bethia creates a warm and intimate relationship with the reader, despite the formal structure and vocabulary of her seventeenth-century English. How were you able to develop such a unique and historically accurate voice without compromising the reader's ability to relate to her?

It took a long while to feel assured about her voice because there are no female diaries extant from that period to draw upon, to prime the pump, as it were. But in the end, after reading what I could in verbatim court records, letters, wills, and other documents, she did begin to speak to me. After that it's a kind of channeling that goes on. I just hear the voice very clearly.

Q. Bethia mentions being inspired by the accomplishments of the poet Anne Bradstreet. This is not a name most readers might recognize. Were you familiar with her work prior to writing the novel?

Yes, I was because I love poetry and read it voraciously. She is North America's first published poet, after all. She deserves to be celebrated!

Q. While we get hints from Bethia as to what she's like in her old age, how do you see the rest of her life progressing after the events of the novel? What could Caleb have accomplished had his story not ended so early?

I think I have let Bethia speak for me on this. He might have had an immense impact. The fact that Thomas Danforth, who was an esteemed jurist and political leader, had charge of him at the time of his death is highly significant. Danforth would not have been involved unless Caleb was considered a promising young man. And Caleb's own achievements as a scholar support that view.

Q. As a writer, your work includes both fiction and nonfiction, covering seventeenth-century America to modern life in the Middle East. As a reader, are your interests as broad or do your tastes remain more constant? What is your favorite book?

At this moment in my life I would have to say Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. I do read widely, including children's and young adult literature, which I read to and with my sons. I admire these books a great deal because they understand the virtues of great plotting and the fundamental importance of story.

Q. What are the different emotional costs and rewards that come with writing fiction as opposed to journalism? Do you feel that your strengths as a journalist are the same as your strengths as a novelist?

To be quite frank I think my greatest strength as a journalist was being able to talk my way into tough situations and put up with uncomfortable conditions for weeks on end. If you could actually show up—be there for the coup or the firefight or the disaster—that was 90 percent of it. The events were so dramatic, the human predicaments so poignant and tragic, it didn't actually require much skill to write about them.

Q. What is your next project?

Another historical novel. And that's all I have to say about it at this point.

  • In discussing the purchase of the island from the Wampanoag, Bethia's father says, "some now say that [the sonquem] did not fully understand that we meant to keep the land from them forever. Be that as it may, what's done is done and it was done lawfully" (p. 9). Do you agree with his opinion?
  • With that in mind, examine Caleb's view of the settlers on p. 143 – 144. Why does he say that the sound of their "boots, boots, and more boots" (p. 143) moved him to cross cultures and adopt Christianity? Contrast this with Tequamuck's reaction to the settlers' arrival (p. 295). Placed in their situation, what would you have felt?
  • Look at Bethia's discussion of the question "Who are we?" at the top of p. 57. Of the options that she offers, which seems most true to you? Are there other options you would add to her list?
  • On p. 285, Joseph Dudley discusses the philosophical question of the Golden Mean, which suggests that the ideal behavior is the middle point between extremes. But he then goes on to argue against this belief, stating that, in fact, there is no middle point between extremes such as "good and evil, truth and falsehood." Which perspective do you agree with?
  • Compared with those in her community, Bethia is remarkably unprejudiced in her view of the Wampanoag. Did you grow up surrounded by prejudices you disagreed with? How did this affect you? Conversely, did you have prejudices in your youth that you've since overcome?
  • Bethia sees her mother's silence as a great strength and tool in dealing with society, particularly as a woman in a male-dominated culture. However, while Bethia repeatedly tries to emulate this behavior, she's often overcome by her own passionate opinions. Find an example where Bethia's boldness in stating her mind is a good thing, and an example where it brings her trouble. Have you ever wished you had spoken when instead you stayed quiet—or wished you had stayed quiet instead of having spoken your mind?
  • The Wampanoag and the Puritans have very different views on raising children. Describe the differences you see between the two and which method you believe is healthier. Are Caleb and Bethia the typical product of their respective societies?
  • Bethia acknowledges that her own religion could seem as crazy to Caleb as his does to her: "Of course, I thought it all outlandish. But… it came to me that our story of a burning bush and a parted sea might also seem fabulous, to one not raised up knowing it was true" (p. 35). In the end, Caleb does come to accept Bethia's religion, and she develops a kinder attitude toward him. Have you or anyone you know ever converted religions? Have you grown interested in or accepting of religions or practices that initially struck you as strange or foreign?
  • When visiting Italy, Bethia writes of feeling overwhelmed by how different it was from her own home. Have you ever had a similar experience when traveling somewhere new? Did your travels make you see your own home in a new light? Does Bethia's visit to Italy change her beliefs or behavior?
  • Unlike Bethia, her son has no interest in traveling to older countries like Italy, saying that "everything there is done and built and finished. I like it here, where we can make and do for ourselves" (p. 274). Is this sense of independence and potential still true of the United States today?
  • Both Bethia and Caleb struggle against the limits and expectations placed on them by society. How are their experiences similar? How are they different? Who faces the greater challenge?

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Caleb's Crossing 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 285 reviews.
nyauthoress More than 1 year ago
The best historical fiction takes historical fact and pulls us in by creating interest in characters of the time period. Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks is one of the most versatile historical fiction writers of today. Her talent lays in takes a slice of history and creating a world we long to enter. Imaginatively conceived and exquisitely written with compelling characters, Caleb's Crossing will command your attention and demand your respect. 1660. Great Harbor (now Martha's Vineyard), Massachusetts. Bethia Mayfield anticipates the arrival of Caleb, a member of the Wampanoag tribe, to her home for tutoring with her minister father. Unperceived by her family, she and Caleb, who share a love of nature, have learned each other's languages and formed a friendship over the past few years. Her brother and Caleb, the first Native American to do so, enter Cambridge to prepare for studies at Harvard. Bethia feels at a loss when she leaves Martha's Vineyard to become a servant in the headmaster's home. Her love of learning prods her secret vigilance in listening to all the lessons. Integral elements of the remarkable Caleb's Crossing are joy in learning, unexpected death, heartbreaking starvation, and the ever-present bond between Caleb and Bethia despite all hardship and prejudice against their bond. Knowledge equals power in this unique book. Caleb says, "And since it seems that knowledge is no respecter of boundaries, I will take it wheresoever I can.if necessary, I will go into the dark to get it." Intrigued? You will find yourself reading in a leisurely fashion to fully savor the evocative prose. "And then I woke, on my cold pallet in this stranger's kitchen, with ice winds from the cracked window fingering my flesh and a snowflake melting slowly on the fireless hearth." The characters are absorbing. The soulful narrative voice of Bethia has an ethereal quality. She is haunted by guilt, taking upon herself blame for a smallpox outbreak, a death during the delivery of a baby-all because of her secret relationship with Caleb. Caleb yearns to be a Pawaaw, or healer of his people. For him, knowledge respects no boundaries. He glows with appreciation of life, zest for learning, curiosity and love of nature. The release of Caleb's Crossing coincides with an important Harvard University event. This May a degree will be awarded to Tiffany Smalley, the first Martha's Vineyard member of the Wampanoag tribe since Caleb to graduate. An official portrait of Caleb will be painted in commemoration. To what does Caleb cross? Read Caleb's Crossing to find out. In the book, Ms. Brooks highlights this question: What are the effects of attempting to Christianize an already spiritual, established civilization? Her own opinion is not expressed. Instead, she tells Caleb's story with forthrightness and clarity, allowing the reader to draw his own conclusions. I thank Viking for providing a copy. The opinions expressed unbiased and solely that of the reviewer. Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont
ElectraMagnet More than 1 year ago
This novel is a beautifully written story, and I think it captures the harsh difficulties of 17th century New England. It's particularly effective in describing the fragility of life in the colonial world, the futility of a woman's position in society, and the dominance of religious influence. The storyline is compelling, and at times it was quite moving. But something about this never clicked, and I'm struggling to identify why it didn't. I think the biggest problem is this: Though this book endeavors to tell Caleb's story, it really ends up being about Bethia. Caleb is just too simple... too compartmentalized. Like the "George Washington never told a lie" version of the man. In fact, many of the characters are a little underdeveloped, and this gives the story a kind of breezy feel. Everything is just a bit too convenient, as if characters are drawn out in a way to move a story along... not because they're people with real depth. To sum up: It's a good novel. But not a great one.
DEVILICIOUS More than 1 year ago
CALEB'S CROSSING is an emotionally engaging and deeply moving work, a wonderful and moving story of two people trying to find their place in the world and the long road to reach their goal. Opening in 1660, in Martha's Vineyard, Caleb was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard, the author paints a vivid portrait of life in Puritan New England. This story is a universal theme of jealousy, of disillusioned passion, of religious disagreements, and of un-reached potential. This one makes you grateful to have been born in this era!
racheldevenishford More than 1 year ago
In writing Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks took a sliver of history, some notations on a page, and gave them flesh. Brooks gives us a view of history, opens it to us so that the reader can feel, when she looks up from the last page, as though she has become someone else. Maybe a Puritan in the seventeenth century. Or a member of the Wampanoag tribe that is rocked under the heft of the colonists that landed on it. Brooks does an excellent job of portraying the sorrow and hardships that both people faced in the time of colonization. She shows the difficulties of the colonists with acute vision and sympathy, while giving weight to their clumsiness and grave mistakes. She shows the beauty and simplicity of the Wampanoag way of life. In her words we feel the confusion of two peoples trying to live together, and all the misunderstanding and sorrow that ensues. Brooks skillfully juxtaposes the hardness of the Puritan brand of spirituality, and the softness of the people themselves. One gets the sense, in Bethia's father, that he is deeply loving and kind, while still maintaining a kind of cultural disfavor toward something like the education of his daughter. For me the high points of the novel existed within the description of the island. I was wrapped up in the beauty of Martha's Vineyard before it had been built up, civilized. Phrases like this were abundant. ", sun scoured afternoons when the shore curved away in its glistening arc toward the distant bluffs." I am there. I loved watching as Caleb taught Bethia his knowledge of the island, how to be at ease in the place that she lived. And the relationship between Caleb and Bethia was the best aspect of the book. In Bethia's words, "He was, quite simply, my dearest friend." I had difficulty in the matter of Bethia's own crossing. I believed in her understanding and friendship with Caleb, in her love of the island and nature, in her attraction to ritual and dance, but certain events left me behind. I wasn't sure that a girl like her would go as far as she went. I won't give a spoiler now. I don't believe that the ideas on religion were entirely unbiased. I believe the author meant to be, but I think the ideas were delicately flavored away from the ideas of the Puritans, which is perhaps difficult not to do when they cultivated such rigidity as allowed them to punish women by beating them. To be friends from two races at that time was a dangerous thing. As Caleb crosses from one world to the other, Bethia questions whether her influence in his life was purely benign. These questions, whether there is possibility of the transfer of ideals from one culture to another, form the framework of the book. The suffering and heartbreak are evident, and in the end I was filled with a keen wish that we could do it all over. Tread with softness and respect, more like Bethia, rather than stomping with boots like the men of the past.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As expected based on the Author's other books, I thoroughly enjoyed Caleb's crossing. The author created vivid pictures in my mind and I had a hard time putting the book down. A very interesting and believable story with many subtle lessons as well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a winning read for anybody that loves a good mix of fiction & history. Brooks has done her research and developed a beleivable story line of remarkable characters. Enjoyed every word. The book ends with an unpredictable finish to an interesting story.
MDTuck More than 1 year ago
Geraldine Brooks is a master at research of the era she determines to write about. The characters are believable and the premise comes through that almost 400 years later we still struggle with inequality and prejudices in many areas - geographically and personally. The writing is melodic and beautifully descriptive of island life and the environmental surroundings. I learned a lot about education in the 17thc in the colonies.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked this book but I did not love it.  
Dutrieux More than 1 year ago
Caleb's Crossing should be required reading for every student. Bethia's journey to womanhood took place in the most diffulcult of times for women and female children. Early settlement days. Her courage and bravery in this stifilling environment was so amazing but, I am sure it spoke for many women. Her meeting with Caleb was an awaking for Bethia and for me. Caleb taught us how we should be behaving towards our fellow man. I would recommend this story to all children eight and over.
bhowell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I have read in ages.
mrstreme on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When Geraldine Brooks moved to her home in Martha's Vineyard, she stumbled across a map of the island that showed the native Wampanoag people - and learned that one of them, Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, was the first Native American graduate of Harvard College in 1665. This little historical fact spawned her latest novel, Caleb's Crossing.Brooks opted to tell the story through the eyes of young Bethia, the granddaughter of the founders of Martha's Vineyard and a devout Calvinist. Bethia, which means "servant," was true to her name - she served her family, her faith and later her family's legacy by taking care of Caleb and fellow Native American student Joel. When only 12, Bethia met Caleb in the forest, and they forged a friendship that lasted throughout Caleb's life. She taught him English and Christianity; Caleb taught her about tolerance and his own faith. It was these early exchanges that set the foundation for Caleb's academic success later in his life.Bethia's character is not based on a historical figure, but Brooks, through her detailed research, illustrated what life would be like for a young woman in 1600's Massachusetts. Bethia was smart, but her religion permitted her from being formally educated. As a woman, she was concerned a commodity, used by her family to help get her less-than-brilliant brother into an academy. It was hard to read Bethia's suppression as both a woman and scholar, but Brooks could do no else with her. It was an unfortunate sign of the times.I love Brooks' writing style and eye for historical detail - both of which are evident in Caleb's Crossing. Admittedly, though, I was not as enraptured by this story as I was with Brooks' earlier books. The plot didn't move quickly enough, and I wanted to know more about Caleb and less about Bethia. I skimmed through some pages in search of some kind of "action" to propel the plot. I found it in bits and pieces, but overall, Caleb's Crossing was a slow-moving story.If you haven't read Geraldine Brooks, start with her other books and delight in her writing. Save Caleb's Crossing for a lazy day by the fire.
wagner.sarah35 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
*I received this book through Goodreads First Reads.*I throughly enjoyed Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book, and while Caleb's Crossing is not quite as good, the novel is nevertheless a well-written and well-researched example of historical fiction. Bethia, a young girl growing up on Martha's Vineyard in the seventeenth century, encounters a young Indian boy who will eventually be renamed Caleb and graduate from Harvard College. The religious views of the early colonists, the place of women in their society, and relations with the Native Americans make a large part of the novel. Bethia, the narrator, struggles against the constraints placed upon her sex, particularly in regards to receiving an education. Overall, Caleb's Crossing was a good read, one I would recommend to a historical fiction fan with an interest in Colonial America.
Citizenjoyce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Geraldine Brooks' style in this book really amazed me. Being a book about Puritans and Native Americans in the 1600's, and not being an elementary school Thanksgiving play, this is not a happy story. There's extreme misogyny, racism, avarice and religious oppression, which Brooks handles in a very strange way. The first 2/3 of the book is one incident of personal oppression after another, enough that I repeatedly considered not finishing. Almost immediately after big infuriating scenes everything would calm down and I could see some of the joy and beauty available in a life of learning or living on a beautiful island - only to be followed by more oppression. In the last 1/3 of the book Brooks shows the ways her characters have overcome personal oppression but concentrates on oppression of whole societies, and somehow, for me, my emotional reaction was not as strong. Isn't it strange that I got such a strong emotional reaction to the personal cruelty, but for the societal persecution I felt more of an intellectual reaction? I wonder if that's because I'm white. I thought this was a very interesting way to handle the story, and I bet I'll be thinking about the effects it had on me for a long time.
exlibrismcp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Brooks once again takes a kernel of historical fact and uses it to unfold a compelling narrative. The kernel in this case is that in 1665 Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. The rest of the book, including Caleb's friendship with Bethia, the novel's narrator, flowers from the author's story-tellying prowess. Caleb and Bethia forge their secret friendship prior to his joining her family's household to receive educational and religious instruction from her minister father in the settlement of Great Harbor, known today as Martha's Vineyard. Circumstances then allow her to accompany Caleb and her brother Makepeace to Cambridge where she is able to remain as a sisterly companion and confidant to the young Native American youth trying to make his way in a culture foreign to his upbringing.It is through their interactions, discussions, and mostly Bethia's innermost musings that Brooks examines the clash of culture, thought, and religious belief ever-present in the novel. Outwardly, Bethia perserveres in her Puritan rearing while inwardly questioning if the white settler's ways are in fact superior in every aspect. Similarly, she also struggles within the confines of strict societal norms for women regarding education and the ability to make her own personal choices.Brooks provides all the right elements for an engaging, wonderful reading experience. The setting is described in rich, illustrious detail, while a well paced plot provides pertinent revelations when and where they are best suited. In addition, she populates the novel with complex, multi-dimensional people who are believable, imperfect and thus fully humanized making them accessible for the reader to connect to. Her dedication to historical research shines through in her attention to detail, both in language and prevailing thoughts and beliefs of the period in question.As with her other novels, one should not expect a mushy, feel-good story. There is plenty of pain, sorrow, and loss interspersed with moments of love, peace, and contentment. It is the embodiment of life's journey in all of its trappings. Compelling and creative, Caleb's Crossing is a journey worth taking.
oldbookswine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bethia Mayfield, daughter of an English minister on an island off the US coast in 1665. Her father tries to convert the local Indians from their ancient ways. At 12 Bethia befriends a young Indian and the book about their friendship that lasts a life time. Bethia challenges the world she lives in and finds much that does not fit of her beliefs and their use in the new land. As she ages, she finds her life limited by this way of life and finds ways to educate herself as her brother and friends are educated. Are Indians human? Can they learn like the English? What is her role in the world limited by the men in her family and community.I find this book well written and accurate to the time and place. Even today as women face the limits to their rights and freedoms, Bethia serves an a strong example of doing what is needed to help herself and others.Strongly recommended for young adults and the general public. An excellent read!
TerriBooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found it really interesting to get a glimpse into 17th century colonial life in Massachusetts. The tension between Bethias's lack of opportunity and her natural talents was reflected in the way the native Americans were treated. The characters of Bethia and Caleb were engaging, although somewhat unbelievable. Would a 16-year-old girl willingly indenture herself so her undeserving brother could go to school? Maybe that I find it unbelievable is just an indication of how far we are from that constrained society. This is not an absorbing book. It moves slowly and you have to put up with the old-fashioned language of Bethia's voice.
Dottiehaase on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
based on a small piece of history--has traces of Poisonwood Bible in it. This time the Indians are being converted. Bethia, daughter of a minister becomes friends with Indian boy Caleb. Caleb goes on to Harvard and Bethia is also educated against all odds at Cambridge. They live in what is now Martha's Vineyard, before going away to school. Caleb and Bethia's brother Joel die. Caleb of consumption. wonderful telling of the time and place
Marlyn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 1665, a young Wampanoag man from what is now known as Martha's Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. Geraldine Brooks takes this fact and builds a novel around it.The story is told from the point of view of (fictional) Bethia Mayfield, a Puritan girl growing up on the island, part of a splinter group of Puritans who are not quite as strict as most. Intelligent and fond of learning, Bethia is disappointed when her father tells her she is too old to continue lessons with her older brother Makepeace, and must follow a woman's path.One day while she's out clamming, she meets a young man whom she calls Caleb. As they become friends, she realizes that he's as intellectually thirsty as she is, even though the English are certain that the indigenous people are dull and stupid.The map of the island at the beginning of the books is extremely helpful. A glossary would also be beneficial, as having to continually search for meanings of contemporary terms pulls the reader out of the story and Bethia's world.Ms. Brooks has created an amazingly believable world around Caleb. The story is rich in historical detail. Through Bethia, she makes real the hardships of colonial life: the cold, the hunger, the smell. Coincidentally, in the spring of 2011, a young woman became only the second Wampanoag from Martha's Vineyard to graduate from Harvard University since 1665.*FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher, who sent me a copy of the book for review purposes.
ccayne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had trouble with the narration of this book - it was stilted and I found it irritating. That said, Brooks brought the narrator, Bethia to life. You could understand what it was like to be a smart young woman in an age when there was no outlet for her. Brooks also created a palpable vision of both the island and Cambridge in the late 1600s. All in all, a fascinating bit of history as the settlers and Indians struggled to find a balance in which they could or couldn't coexist. I enjoyed the relationships between Bethia and Caleb and Bethia and Samuel - wonderful examples of friendship, love and respect.
GCPLreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The publicity lead me to believe this was based on the true story of the first Native American (here Wampanoang)-- yes, but it's mainly about Bethia, friend of Caleb and daughter to Martha Vineyard's missionary preacher in the 1660's. Bethia writes a journal that spans her life on the beautiful island as she is tormented by her concept of sin and by her determination to find her true path. The book is soooooooooo perfectly written........ but why then was I so disinterested? There's just nothing new here. Yes, fans of the author should read this, but read it for the language and the setting. I bet you'll connect with it a bit better than I did.
khiemstra631 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I listened to this book and had a bit of a problem really getting interested in the first third or so of it. The story takes place in the 1600s on an Island off the coast of Boston. As usual for that time period, there's lots of death, and the main protagonist, Bethia, ends up losing everyone in her family, except for her brother, when she is in her late teenage years. She has developed a friendship with Caleb, a Wampanoag Indian, who is being groomed to attend Harvard. When her family dies, she ends up as an indentured servant at a preparatory academy near Harvard which Caleb also attends. The story follows Caleb through his graduation and shortly thereafter, ending with a series of flashbacks when the protagonist is quite elderly. There are some surprises in the book, and the latter part moves along pretty well. It is certainly a worthwhile read.
labfs39 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
He is coming on the Lord's Day. Though my father has not seen fit to give me the news, I have the whole of it.Thus begins Geraldine Brook's newest novel, and therein lies a hint to my problem with the book: a female narrator from an earlier historic period that has implausible and impossible knowledge and modern insight. This same problem plagued her earlier novel, Year of Wonders. Caleb's Crossing is based on a scrap of historic evidence: a letter written in Latin by Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College in 1665. This basis for an historic novel is thin, but interesting. How would a young man of the Wampanoag Tribe from Martha's Vineyard end up at Harvard? What would his experience there be like? How would he navigate the enormous social, cultural, and religious differences between his past and present?Unfortunately, the author chooses to tell this story from the perspective of a young Puritan girl, Bethia. She becomes the vehicle through which the reader tries to hear Caleb's voice. In order to facilitate knowledge of Caleb's life with his tribe, the author has to engineer unlikely free time for a strictly raised Puritan girl to wander the woods, form a relationship with Caleb, and spy on Native ceremonies. Then when Caleb leaves the Island for Cambridge, the author again has to devise an unlikely situation in order for the narrator to stay with the subject. It is awkward and unbelievable. Equally so is Bethia's prodigious ability to learn languages and memorize lessons while eavesdropping from the scullery and her ability to keep a lifelong secret diary written in a most modern voice.So although Geraldine Brooks has a good ear for story and an interest in historical research, I am becoming less and less impressed with her ability to convey a compelling narrative. Is People of the Book to remain her most accomplished work?
libsue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Was looking forward to Caleb's Crossing because I just loved Year of Wonders. At first CC promised to be just as good, but the story was slow and the characters never became alive for me. What promised to be Caleb's story offered very little of Caleb - he was relegated to minor character status. His story or the story of Anne would have been far more facinating and possibly less predictable.
SusieBookworm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Despite the title, Caleb's Crossing is just as much, if not more so, about Bethia and her struggles in the male-dominated Puritan world that subjects her to uneducated, blind obedience to the men in her life as about Caleb's struggles to overcome ethnocentricity and figure out which path will help his people more, continuing on in his traditional lifestyle and religion or leaving these to attain a white man's higher education, even if it costs him his health and family. Though Brooks appears to depart from the storyline set out by the title by focusing more on Bethia's life than Caleb's, the two lives remain connected to each other and the author effectively carries out the historical points she is trying to make about cultural exchanges and gender relations in colonial America. While the plot moves slowly, Brooks still draws readers into the characters' lives; at some points I even wished she had written more and delved further into certain periods of their lives. Brooks seamlessly weaves historical detail into the novel, everything from traditional Wompanoag lifeways and religion to the words and phrases of the time to mentions of such personages as Anne Bradstreet, Anne Hutchinson, and John Eliot. She does a great job of capturing the feel of the time period - one which, occurring between the landing at Plymouth and the Salem Witch Trials, is often neglected in historical fiction of colonial America. My rating for this is 4 1/2 out of 5 - near perfect. Brooks' subject and writing leave very little to complain about.
keywestnan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another good one from Brooks, though my favorite is still the first of hers I read, Year of Wonders. I always have a little trouble with the "why I'm writing this account that a person in my situation wouldn't normally be writing" conceit. But Bethia is an engaging character who, for the most part, comes across as a believable, if unusually enlightened, woman of her times (late 17th century New England). The book is really more about her than Caleb, the Native American boy who became the first to graduate from Harvard, but that was OK with me.