Friday, June 8, 2012
Bethia is a young Puritan girl who lives in a tiny island settlement of early American pioneers. Although this group is more liberal than those from the mainland, her father still believes that they are there to save the souls of the "savage" Native Americans who already live on the island. The two groups find a way to live together in a careful peace and Bethia's father even gains some followers. However, he is constantly deterred by a powerful chieftain who has a lot of control over his people.
Amidst all this, Bethia explores her beautiful island and happens upon the nephew of this chieftain, whom she calls Caleb. He teaches her about his customs and the island, while she teaches him to read and tries to convert him to Christianity. They become as close as brother and sister, though they know this would be absolutely forbidden from both sides. Later Caleb comes to live with the white settlers and becomes the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. But the pull of these two very different worlds takes its toll on him and changes him forever. Bethia too learns more of what she really believes and herself walks a little in both worlds.
This book is loosely based on the story of a real young man named Caleb who graduated from Harvard. There are very few details of his life, so the author admits that much of it is fiction, especially the character of Bethia. However, the story has a feeling of being very honest and true to the time period. Much of the book is about the struggle of finding what someone really believes for themselves, and how they reconcile that with what others believe. The author doesn't allow herself to make judgements about what is "right" or "wrong", but tells a story about others trying to figure that out. Its about friendship and love, and also about prejudice and hate. Its got a lovely little romance thrown in for good measure. On another level, the book is also about the role of women in a society that hardly puts them much above the "savages", for even the Native Americans are allowed to go to school, whereas a woman is not.
Brooks has a haunting voice for description, especially the details of the beauty of the island, as well as the living conditions at the college. The book made me extremely grateful for the education I received at such an easy price. It has not always been so for others, nor is it even now for some. The story made me take a deeper look at what I believe and reminded me how grateful I am to know that I have a loving, kind, and forgiving Heavenly Father who loves all his children.