Friday, April 15, 2011

Two Historical Novels for You

I love my historical fiction, whether it's teen fiction, or adult.  I've read two historical novels in the past week that are very different!

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell is a teen historical novel with a paranormal twist.  Young Amelia is sent from Maine to Baltimore in 1889 to spend the summer with her cousins, the Stewarts, in order to "catch" a husband.  Her cousin Zora is a lovely young woman who is in love with Thomas, the son of a local doctor.  Amelia's first dinner party introduces her to Nathaniel, a poor artist who is paid to be the 'fourteenth' at dinner parties.  Nathaniel is a mysterious young man who soon has Amelia thinking only of him.  An accidental gaze into  the sunset has Amelia seeing a future event--Zora dancing with Thomas in a beautiful dress.  Spilling the beans to Zora, and having the event occur exactly as Amelia has seen it, soon has Amelia caught up in a whirlwind of social calls with other young society ladies demanding that Amelia see their future, with horrible consequences for everyone, and sending Amelia back to Maine, locked up in her brother's attic as a 'ruined' young woman.  

I did like this book.  The idea for the story was intriguing, and the descriptions of society and the do's and don'ts at that time pull you into the story.  My only complaint was that nothing much happened until the last 25 or so pages, and then Bam!  It all happens at once.  And the end?  Well, it kinda left me unsatisfied.  I hope there is more to Amelia's story so the readers can have some conclusion and we can discover how Amelia's talent came to be.

My other book is by one of my favorite authors, Geraldine Brooks.  It's coming out in May and it's called Caleb's Crossing.  Geraldine Brooks is a spectacular historical novelist.  She has taken the story of Caleb, who was an actual figure in history--he was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard in 1665.  
The story is about Caleb, but is narrated by Bethia, a young woman who meets Caleb in her early teen years as they both live on Martha's Vineyard.  Caleb is with the local tribe, and Bethia meets him one day while she's out gathering food.  Bethia's father is a preacher who has been making attempts to convert the local tribes to Christianity, and Bethia's thirst for learning has lead her to learn some of the native language, which she uses to communicate with Caleb.  Over the years, their friendship grows, and through many tragedies in Bethia's family, she finds herself an indentured servant in Cambridge, where Caleb and her brother are preparing to take exams to enter Harvard.  

This novel is another amazing story by Brooks.  She weaves so much into her stories, you become completely involved in the lives of the characters.  Bethia is a wonderful young woman who fights against the strictures of her time, which do not allow women to learn to read and write.  She's lucky that her father has allowed her to learn, but when it becomes clear that she is much smarter than her older brother, her father forbids her to advance her studies.  He tells her women are there to be supportive of their husbands and run the household, and that Latin, rhetoric, and Greek are too difficult and unnecessary for women.

If  you  are a fan of historical fiction at it's best, pick this up.  It's a fascinating look at the early history of our country, and it's amazing to realize that Harvard has been around so long!  Caleb's struggle to bridge the gap between his culture and the white culture is heartbreaking, and you find yourself wishing he had been left alone to live his life amongst the beauty of Martha's Vineyard.  


  1. I love reading Geraldine Brooks...I've read two of her books now....and it looks like I will probably be reading this one as well.

    thanks for sharing this with us.


  2. Thanks for reviewing the Geraldine Brooks book. I have a special interest in American Indian stories and I've found I like historical fiction. I'm going to try reading this. I haven't read any of Brooks books. Is it a difficult read (not emotionally but academically)?

    And sorry Vespers didn't turn out to be as good as expected. I thought of you right away when I saw that book.

  3. Caleb's Crossing is good, but it does have a lot of religious stuff in it. It is central to the story, since everyone lived their lives by the book way back when. Otherwise, it is a good read!

    Yes, I was bummed about The Vespers, too.