Bethia Mafield lives in the Great Harbor settlement in the 1600s. Her father is a Calvanist minister, and he and her grandfather run the community. She longs for education, but her father limits her opportunities to learn because she is a girl. When she is twelve years old she meets Caleb the son of a Wampanoag chieftain. They teach each other their language and the beliefs from their culture. One of her father's projects becomes educating Caleb in the hope of converting his tribe to christianity.
Brooks based this story off the real life of Caleb, the first Native American graduate of Harvard. There is limited information available about Caleb. She relied heavily on what is known about settlements in the area and Harvard at that time Caleb was alive. From this she tried to try to piece together what Caleb's experience might have been.
I read this with one of my book clubs. I think this is my favorite book by Geraldine Brooks that I have read so far. I thought she managed the use of language from the period while making it understandable to the modern reader quite well. I appreciate when an author is able to do this without annoying or creating difficulties for the reader. I appreciate the skill Brooks uses to bring attention to people and events that aren't as well known. Her honesty in her explanations about what was fact, and what she wrote for the story was excellent. I like to know this when reading historical fiction.
The story is from the fictional character Bethia's perspective. I thought given the lack of exact information for Caleb's life, this was an interesting way to write his story. This also gave us an intimate view on how difficult it can be to cross into another culture, particularly when the cultures are hostile to one another.
Overall, I thought this was an interesting book to read. Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this book.