Set in Noepe (current day Martha’s Vineyard) during the 1600s, Bethia Mayfield is the brilliant daughter of a minister. As she comes of age, propriety requires that she forgo any hopes of a formal education and instead pursue qualities that are more becoming of a woman and homemaker. Still, Bethia maintains her scholarly interests by eavesdropping on her less erudite brother’s lessons and finds contentment. While foraging the seashore for clams one day, she meets Cheeshahteaumauck, an impressive young native she renames Caleb, and they quickly form a bond. Keeping their friendship secret, Caleb soon joins Bethia’s family and becomes her father’s prized student. Little does Bethia know that their lives will intertwine and that Caleb will be instrumental in her access to education.
I can’t remember the last time I sympathized so greatly with characters as much as I did with Bethia and Caleb. Their challenges were authentic, and because they faced their lot in life admirably and with grace it was impossible not to root for their well-being. I give credit to Brooks for introducing Caleb Cheeshahteaumauck to the mainstream. I will not be surprised if my thoughts return to this story from time to time, particularly to Caleb. I would love to learn what his experiences truly were and hope that a biographical account appears one day.