Tuesday, May 17, 2011

REVIEW: Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks

Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks. Published 2011 by Viking Adult. Literary Fiction.

Geraldine Brooks' new novel Caleb's Crossing is a detailed fictionalization of the story of Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard as told through the eyes of his (fictional) neighbor and friend Bethia. The story really centers on Bethia and Brooks shows Caleb's journey through her eyes. Bethia is a smart young woman who befriends Caleb on the island of Martha's Vineyard and through various contrivances of plot shadows him through his career in Cambridge. Her own path is difficult; indentured to pay for her brother's education and almost forced into a marriage she doesn't want, she bristles at authority and does her best to take care of herself when it seems no one else will care for her.

Brooks provides a lot of interesting historical background on 17th century New England. Brooks clearly did her research to write this book, and it's an interesting if not entirely page-turning narrative. I thought Caleb's character was not well-defined beyond his being sort of blandly wise and good; Bethia was an interesting person but she also seemed to be a little by-the-numbers. Brooks includes an author's note at the end about the real Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck with what little is actually known about him and his circumstances, which I appreciated.

Overall I have to say I was disappointed with this novel, somewhat dull after the wonder that was People of the Book. This book has none of the magic that made her last so special; it struck me as a pretty ordinary if well-executed historical-fiction piece. I'm sure the book will be very popular among Brooks' fans but her brand of light-ish historical fiction didn't really work for me this time.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for a compensated review from BlogHer.com. You can see the review on the BlogHer Book Club site here. I also received a copy of this book for review from the book's publicist.

17 comments:

fatbooks.org said...

Sounds like you felt about this a lot like I felt about "March," which I read a few months ago. So much of the historical detail Brooks digs up is interesting, but the way she fits it together didn't work for me - her characters never read so much like real people, and the whole read as well-crafted but heartless.

Despite not liking "March," every once in a while I start thinking about giving Brooks another try. Definitely won't be with this book.

-- Ellen

Mystica said...

My knowledge of early American history was zero so this was a good start for me. I won this myself in a giveaway and enjoyed the book very much.

booktoo said...

I would really like to read this book.
kkosko@hotmail.com

Laura said...

I just finished Year of Wonders, and then read a positive review of Caleb's Crossing in the NY Times this weekend, which made me really want to read it. Your review gives me a balanced perspective. And since I have People of the Book on my shelves so I think I'd better read that one first!

bermudaonion said...

Sorry to see this book was a disappointment, because the premise sounds so good to me.

Zibilee said...

I have heard others say this this book was a little lackluster, and think that I will skip it. I still haven't read People of the Book, so I may just get to that one instead. Thanks for the straightforward review, Marie!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Ah, so glad you were disappointed. I trust your judgment, and am happy to have one less book hanging over my head to read! :--)

TheEccentricLady said...

Oh, I was so looking forward to this new book. I have enjoyed her other books. If the copies are not gone I'd take the ARC. I'd still like to read it. My email is smash585@earthlink.net
For others reading the comments. My book club really enjoyed "People of the Book" I highly recommend it.
Thanks for the opportunity to receive this book!

ellen said...

I'll read just about anything with a "Cape and Islands" theme since I'm new to the area. I need to know some of the background assumptions of the locals.

Carolina Gal's Literary Cafe said...

So sorry this did not work for you. Like you, I was looking forward to it since, I loved People of the Book. Thank you for your honest reveiew.

Rayna Eliana said...

Thanks for your honest review, as always.

I loved People of the Book, and enjoyed Year of Wonders.

Even the jacket on this one didn't grab me.

Blodeuedd said...

So sorry to see that you were disappointed since I really enjoyed People, and have wondered about this new book

Christina said...

I'll be reading this next month for a book club, so I was interested in your review and sorry you didn't like it much! The historical setting sound really interesting, but I won't expect too much. Thanks for the honesty.
And... I'm guessing from the other comments you have a copy to give away? I'd love it!
StinaVW@gmail.com

Kathleen said...

I don't read a lot of historical fiction so I might like this one. I won't have much to compare it to!

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Nooo....I'm so sad to hear that you didn't like this book. :( I loved People of the Book as well, and thought Year of Wonders was gripping. I won Caleb's Crossing and have been trying to figure out my schedule of when I can read this, but maybe I should wait a while before reading it? So sad...

Rebecca Reid said...

I was really intrigued by this book so it sounds like I would have been disappointed!! Maybe I'll still read it, but with lower expectations.

Pam said...

Oh no! This one is waiting for me at the library and I was really looking forward to it since I enjoyed Year of Wonders and People of the Book so much. I'm still going to give it a try, but if it doesn't grab me right away I may abandon it. What a shame!