It is 22 days until I attend the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. To say that I'm excited is much understated. In the past month, I have attempted to read some books by attending authors, and I will continue to do so up until the festival itself and after. With every week now presenting new publications from favorite authors, it is rather a daunting task to fit in the books for the festival and those favorite authors. However, there are some titles that overlap, as in the example of Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, both a festival read and a favorite author. I suspect that overlapping will be the norm. Two books I've just finished are indeed both favorite author and festival choices, The Fault in Our Stars and, previously mentioned, Caleb's Crossing. I'm including the reviews for both books below and also on my review page.
Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Another "wow" from Geraldine Brooks! There's a level of writing and storytelling that consistently sets the bar high, and Brooks sets this high bar with every stroke of the key. She continues to find the obscure thread of history and create a story around it that completely enthralls the reader. As with her previous novels, I became ensconced into the time, places, and people of this tale. There is always a higher calling to the stories, a David vs. Goliath struggle that finds you passionately pulling for the underdog and exasperated with the ignorance and intolerance of those in power.
Caleb's Crossing is a tale inspired by the first Native American graduate of Harvard, Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a member of the Wopanaak tribe from what is now Martha's Vineyard. In 1665, he accomplished this extraordinary feat, having learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew in the process. Brooks was able to take scant information about this amazing scholar and spin a plausible and intriguing story that vividly recreates the era of history in which Native Americans were usually referred to as salvages (savages) and women were routinely denied control of their destinies. The narrator of the story is Bethia Mayfield, daughter of Great Harbor's, as part of the island was called then, minister. Her grandfather had purchased the land from the Indians, attempting in his own way, a fair settlement. Bethia and Caleb become friends at a young age, unbeknownst to their families and friends, and exude some influence over each other. She teaches him English, and he teaches her his native tongue and the riches of the island's natural beauties. Life is hard on the island, and indeed in the late 17th century America, and Bethia and Caleb must overcome many prejudices and tragedies to claim a piece of the budding new world for themselves. Both clash with controlling family members, Bethia with her brother and Caleb with his uncle, and their relatives' ideas of what is best for them in contrast to what the two friends secretly covet. The novel is as much about breaking free of the chains that bind one as it is about Caleb's rise to Harvard graduate. The treatment of Native Americans and women had much in common in the 1660's age of white man's suppressive authority. Some would allow that the struggle still continues.
As with her previous novel, People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks has given readers a fascinating historical fiction read in Caleb's Crossing. Her writing is superb and her subjects are unparalleled in their captivating ability to transport the reader to another time and place. Perhaps, Brooks' novels should more accurately be listed under time travel.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Sometimes, not nearly often enough, a book comes along that you must finish reading no matter what the time of night, or morning, and in spite of a full day facing you after your dearth of sleep. I only halfheartedly tried to put the book down once last night/early this morning, and then I gave in to the power of the need to finish it. I originally balked at reading this book, as I wasn't sure when I would ever be in the mood for a book about teens dealing with cancer. All I can say now is, don't judge a book by what you think its subject matter is. Yes, Hazel and Augustus are two teen who struggle with cancer and all that entails, including loving parents who want so desperately to banish the evil monster that has imprisoned their children. But, this gripping book is not about cancer; this book is about people, two people who are amazing. As Augustus tells Hazel early on when he ask what her story is and she starts to remind him of her cancer diagnosis, "No, not your cancer story. Your story. Interests, hobbies, passions, weird fetishes, etcetera."
The first book I read by John Green was Looking For Alaska, and I was impressed by his ability to get inside the teenage mind, the one that is questioning the rules and wisdom of the ages, as teens should and actually do. Then, when I read An Abundance of Katherines, I fell in love with Green's witty characters. Wit is very much valued by me in writing, and Green is a master with it. In The Fault in Our Stars, the wit is a continual feast of delight. Yes, cancer kids can be wonderfully witty and passionate about life, just like, well, just like any kids.
Don't misunderstand, there is the dreaded disease of cancer always there in this book. How could it be otherwise? It is treated by Green as it is, ugly and humiliating. That teenagers can have fun, find love, and share favorite books while talking about death suits and last wishes is nothing short of miraculous, normalcy against all odds.
I will probably at some point reread this moving book to embrace all the wit and wonder that it contains. It's a book that you just know will maintain its power for the rest of your reading life.