Caleb's crossing by Geraldine Brooke is the story of Caleb, the first Native American graduate of Harvard College. Through the eyes of Bethia, daughter of the minister of Great Harbour (Martha's Vineyard,) we follow the lives of these two young souls as they struggle to reconcile diametrically opposed faiths. The tale is loosely inspired on historic events.
Although Bethia is the one who initiates Caleb's crossing to the christian faith, somehow, the title doesn't match the content. Their stories do overlaps, but the book mostly tells of her life, not his. The difficulty of creating a tale from the boy's point of view is understandable (lack of historical evidence being one of the main obstacle that comes to mind,) but he should still have been the main character, not Bethia. This doesn't mean it isn't a great story, just that it isn't the one the reader expects.
Brook's characters are well fleshed with distinct realistic personality. She skillfully uses of the context of the extremely puritan American colonies to bring the protagonists to life. Bethia's inner struggles make her a great character against which to pitch Caleb's certainties. As their lives progress, it's the weights shift in the balance, the former gaining in peace and the latter sinking deeper in incertitude.
Religion plays an important part in the story, as it dictates most of Bethia's action and reaction. The book itself reminds the reader of the Fall of man, the heroine paying for her sins as she befriends the young Wampanoag and explores his faith with too much curiosity. It seems that, despite her happiness, she keeps on paying her entire life for the errors of her innocent age.
I read Caleb's Crossing for the Atwater Library Bookclub and it definitely was a read outside my comfort zone. I usually enjoy historical fiction, but I tend to avoid religiously charged books as the subject matter hinders my reading (to be entirely honest, it really annoys me.) Although it was in context, it still took me a few chapters to adjust the the religious zeal that Bethia evolved in. However, as the book progressed, I was reminded of how lucky I am, as a woman, to be able to make my own choices and choose to get an education if I wish to. Bethia is truly revolutionary in that sense. She takes control of her own destiny, a pioneer in her times. Once again, this shows how much more the story is hers and not Caleb's.The characters are very well-fleshed. We can't help but be annoyed by Makepeace and be fond of Caleb. The religious view of Bethia annoyed me greatly, proof that the character was very well built.
Despite the somewhat misleading title, I would recommend Caleb's Crossing.