Bethia Mayfield is born to a hard life in Colonial Massachusetts, tending her home and caring for her siblings when her mother dies, forbidden by her minister father to be educated with her brother Makepeace despite her quick mind and ear for languages. So for a few years in her childhood she takes refuge at the distant seashore, and one day she meets a young Native man whom she calls Caleb. Keeping the secret from both their families, the two become friends, until Bethia is too old for such leisure time. Then a smallpox outbreak destroys Caleb's people and he comes to Bethia's father for shelter and education, ultimately following Makepeace to Cambridge and to Harvard. Bethia accompanies them, anxious to maintain the connection with her old friend, but has he crossed to a world where she cannot reach him? And in crossing, has he left his heritage too far behind him?
Geraldine Brooks gives us a lush historical novel in Caleb's Crossing, but she was inspired by a tiny nugget of history: the true but sparsely documented story of Caleb, the first Native American graduate of Harvard. Other historical novels similarly inspired by fragments of history include Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring, which imagines the creation of Vermeer's famous painting, and Emma Donoghue's Slammerkin, which fleshes out the story behind a servant girl's murder of her employer in 1763. - Michelle (Sunset)