I bought the book as soon as it came out and started reading it over the easter long weekend, staying up late and getting up early to delve back in to the story. I finished it this morning with mixed feelings - contentment over reading such a great story but sadness for knowing I will never be able to experience it for the first time again!
Caleb's Crossing tells the story of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a member of the Wopanaak tribe of Martha's Vineyard, born around 1646 and the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Although Caleb was a real person Brooks has taken what few facts are known of Caleb's life and created a fictional account of his story, including creating a fully fictional character, Bethia Mayfield to narrate the story.
Bethia is the 12 year old daughter of a minister in a strict English puritan settlement on Martha's Vineyard when she first meets the young Caleb and begins to form a friendship with him - each learning of the other's culture and language. Bethia's father is intent on educating and reforming the Native Indians to the English way of life - including it's strict faith and ways of worship - and Caleb becomes one of his pupils much to the disgust of his uncle who is a leader in his tribe.
As in all of her novels it is clear that Brooks has done extensive research and it shows in the way she is able to bring the voices of the characters and the picture of the landscapes across so cleatly to the reader - I really felt as though I was being brought into the time of the 1660's in rural America.
I am still unclear as to why Brooks has used the character of Bethia to narrate Caleb's story (although she does discuss this a little in the afterward of the book). Brooks talks about wanting to give a voice to Caleb and his story in some way and I would have felt a better way to this would have been to enable Caleb (or at least the fictional character) to tell his own story. I thought the character of Bethia was wonderful and I enjoyed reading about her and from her but at times it really felt as though the book should have been titled "Bethia's Crossing".
Don't let that deter you from reading this though - it is a wonderful story that is a joy to read - a brilliant writer telling a fantastic story - what more could a reader want?