Geraldine Brooks, how I love you. If I were to play that game "which celebrities would you have dinner with," I would for sure pick Geraldine Brooks and Kate Morton. We could just write to each other across the dinner table, spinning stories and weaving words. We'd play Story Starters: I'd write the first phrase, and then they could just take off with it.
But I digress. This is a review of Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. This was our book club's read for June, and I am happy to report that, for perhaps the first time ever, everyone not only read but loved this novel! This is an astonishing accomplishment for this highly opinionated, somewhat diverse group of women.
We had a fantastic discussion of the novel, guided by this excellent set of questions provided at Penguin Books. Of course our discussion branched off from the guide at nearly every question, but we did actually get through it in our 3.5 hour meeting.
Caleb's Crossing tells the story of Bethia, a young Puritan girl and daughter of a minister, and Caleb, the son of a Wampanoag chieftain. The two forge a steadfast but secret friendship that carries them through terrible tragedies throughout several years. The novel is loosely based on the true story of Caleb, who was the first Native American graduate of Harvard. The "crossing" refers to Caleb's decision to, in many ways, cross over from his world to the white world. But it is also Bethia's crossing, as she straddles the world that she is destined for—that of a quiet and submissive Puritan—and the one she desires, that is full of intellectual stimulation and education.
The novel brings up an array of issues: the European conquest of the New World, the role of religion, gender, race, education, societal and cultural expectations, and even child rearing. Brooks is a beautiful writer and captivating storyteller. She does everything well, touching on the issues but allowing the reader freedom to draw her own conclusions. We could have discussed the book for hours and hours more.
I'd been looking forward to reading this novel for such a long time, and now I'm sad that I have read all of Brooks's novels so far:
People of the Book
Year of Wonders
Highly recommended—and a fantastic book club choice.