Title: Caleb's Crossing
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Geraldine Brooks is one of those authors whose books I will always read just on the basis of her reputation. I bought Caleb's Crossing on the day it was released, and it waited on my nightstand, like a reward, until I went on vacation, where I planned to relish every word of the novel. Brooks moved to Martha's Vineyard several years ago, and it provides the main setting for the novel, which follows Bethia Mayfield, the fifteen-year-old daughter of the island's first minister (we're talking 1640s here) and Caleb Cheesshahteaumauk, the native boy who her father takes under his wing to educate and serve as a bridge between the two cultures on the island. The story moves to the early years of Harvard College and involves a little bit of romance, a lot of early women's lib, and way too much death by disease, murder, and drowning.
It took me a little while to get interested in Caleb's Crossing (which probably has more to do with the fact that while this was a "vacation" it was not at all relaxing and I fell into the bed I was sharing with both girls completely exhausted by the end of the day. And while I like the spunky heroine who is smarter than her brother but can't go to college herself, I feel like that's become kind of too predictable a character from what I'd expect from a Brooks novel and the whole "white men did bad things to then noble savages" theme feels a little heavy-handed (not that it's not an important issue). There's also this one weird passage in the middle where Bethia writes as her elderly self, which feels out of place because it only occurs once (the first half of the novel is basically a diary of one year and the second half is an old-age reflection on the next few years) Eventually, however, I did get caught up with in the story. Brooks's passages about Bethia's little sister had me crying into my pillow at night, and I got to the point where I pushed through the fatigue and just kept reading to the conclusion (even though you'll know how the book ends if you read the afterword before you come to the end).