Caleb's Crossing

Caleb's Crossing

A Novel

Book - 2011
Average Rating:
Rate this:
A richly imagined new novel from the author of the New York Times bestseller, People of the Book .

Once again, Geraldine Brooks takes a remarkable shard of history and brings it to vivid life. In 1665, a young man from Martha's Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Upon this slender factual scaffold, Brooks has created a luminous tale of love and faith, magic and adventure.

The narrator of Caleb's Crossing is Bethia Mayfield, growing up in the tiny settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneers and Puritans. Restless and curious, she yearns after an education that is closed to her by her sex. As often as she can, she slips away to explore the island's glistening beaches and observe its native Wampanoag inhabitants. At twelve, she encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a tentative secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia's minister father tries to convert the Wampanoag, awakening the wrath of the tribe's shaman, against whose magic he must test his own beliefs. One of his projects becomes the education of Caleb, and a year later, Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonial elite. There, Bethia finds herself reluctantly indentured as a housekeeper and can closely observe Caleb's crossing of cultures.

Like Brooks's beloved narrator Anna in Year of Wonders , Bethia proves an emotionally irresistible guide to the wilds of Martha's Vineyard and the intimate spaces of the human heart. Evocative and utterly absorbing, Caleb's Crossing further establishes Brooks's place as one of our most acclaimed novelists.

Watch a Video
ISBN: 9780670021048
Characteristics: 306 pages ;,24 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

LoganLib_JennyI Aug 30, 2018

Pulitzer Prize winning Australian-American author, Geraldine Brooks tells the story of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard University in the 17th century. Brooks takes a small piece of history and with research and imagination weaves this fantastic tale set in the Puritan settlements of colonial Cambridge.
I loved this book as it blended some of my favourite themes - education, philanthropy, religion, kindness, cross-cultural conflict, gender roles, coping with loss - and was based on a sliver of historical fact.

May 27, 2018

I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book but I found it an enjoyable read and would recommend it to others.

ArapahoeAnnaL Feb 14, 2018

The first Native American to graduate from Harvard - in 1665. Friendship amid two very different cultures; compellingly drawn picture of Martha's Vineyard in the early Colonial period.

Dennis Robert Rue
Feb 08, 2016

Definitely a skilled writer with imagination coupled with good research who knows how to make an interesting storyline punctuated with enough fact, drama and romance to tow the reader along.
Will definitely try her other novels.

Feb 03, 2016

Geraldine Brooks has to be one of the finest writers of our time. Her writing fully immerses her readers into worlds set in centuries past, and she manages to do so in a form that is truthful to the time and place of the book's setting. She gives us a glimpse into the lives of characters who are true to their time (and not modernized versions). Brooks' novels often explore the religious beliefs of the day, and often from the perspective of women.

"Caleb's Crossing" is based around the story of Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, of the Wampanoag tribe--the first Native American to graduate from Harvard University. True to Brooks' storytelling style, though, the book follows a young woman, in this case, the fictional Bethia, a young Puritan girl who befriends Caleb as a child and who finds her life intertwined with his after her minister father decides to help educate Caleb so he can go to the Indian School at Harvard. Bethia is a natural learner, but is a female, and therefore, although she takes in as much knowledge as she can, she knows her life is restricted to that of serving as a wife and mother and running a household.

I very much enjoyed following Bethia on her journey from Martha's Vineyard, to Cambridge, and beyond. Every time I picked up the book, I felt drawn into her world (and so grateful for the freedoms I have that she was denied!)

With that said, the book was not the fastest read. And I can't say I felt as compelled to pick it up as often as I would like a book to do for me. But all-in-all, I enjoyed it, and came away with a bit more knowledge of my country's history.

PimaLib_MaryG Dec 07, 2015

Author Geraldine Brooks is an amazing writer of historical fiction. In this novel she creates a fictional friend of Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard, to tell a story of what it may have been like in the early days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Bethia Mayfield educates herself in two by eavesdropping on her brother's lessons with her missionary father and through secret meetings with her friend Cheeshahteaumuck, the son of a Wampanoag leader. I had to stay up all night to finish reading this.

Nov 25, 2015

This was captivating historical fiction from a girls diary perspective. I would've preferred it to be about fiction with a happy ending instead of the white patrons proving they could train this primitive savage (spelled salvage in the book-like some kind of salvage operation). Caleb's dream to help his own people/tribe was not realized because he died of malnutrition, cold and prejudice. Reflects history but did not make for a good ending.

Oct 15, 2015

Wonderful beginning, great story until the last quarter, then I was slammed to the ground wondering if someone had glued the last pages to a different book into my book! I had to read the other comments on this website to see if i was alone in my thinking! Very dissappointed!!! I loved Year of Wonders! Looks like i need to try People of the Book.

AquaSabi Aug 09, 2015

This is a good read. The author writes her ideas on the lives of the first two known Native American scholars to attend what would become Harvard University. This is seen through the perspective of Bethia who is a resident of English background living on an island settlement on the Great Harbor. Bethia is a strong-willed character who strives for an education. Along the way she picks up on a fair amount of knowledge. Later in the book she is able to even learn some of what the university scholars receive by working in the cook's kitchen and keeping an attentive ear to the door. Caleb (0riginally called Cheeshateaumauk), is in line towards becoming the next leader of his tribe but through his friendship with Bethia and her father (who seeks on converting the Native inhabitants of the island) he starts on an English education and soon eventually converts to Christianity. Joel is another Native inhabitant who takes a similar path. Even in the face of opposition from other people solely on their being Native people, Joel and Caleb obtains great successes in their English education. This story has it's share of tragedy but the characters and the story makes for an interesting read.

Jun 23, 2015

Brooks has a talent for making history come alive, with deft use of period vocabulary and nuanced portrayals of historical cultures and communities. She's also not afraid to tackle huge issues: in this case the racism of early English colonial settlements in New England, and the patriarchal stifling of women's abilities and educational opportunities. The story follows a teenage girl in 17th-century Martha's Vineyard as she navigates her feelings for a local Wampanoag youth and her resentment at being denied access to education. The characters are complex and richly crafted, with thoughtful exploration of their relationships and emotions. Readers may be put off by the sometimes over-eager voice of the teenage narrator, but her story consistently demands attention.

View All Comments

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at Library

To Top