Book Review: The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

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Rating: 4.5 / 5

Henry Shackleford is a young  twelve-year-old slave in the Kansas area when John Brown arrives.  John Brown is a notorious abolitionist, going from town to town with the goal of freeing all slaves.  While his cause is a worthy one, it is rife with problems; Brown lacks a sufficient army, as the people fighting with him are neither trained nor driven, and Brown makes decisions on a whim instead of planning and preparing for fights.  One day Brown ends up at Henry’s owner’s place, and after an argument, Brown ends up leaving with Henry, mistaking Henry for a girl.  At first Henry is adamant about correcting Brown’s assumption, but then realizes that the chances of surviving are much higher if he actually pretends to be a girl.

The Good Lord Bird is an amazing novel about John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry and the events leading up to it.  I’ve read reviews saying that The Good Lord Bird is hilarious, and that is spot on.  It was a dark time in American history, and truly, the adventures that Little Onion (nicknamed by Brown) embark on are sad, but his perspective, mannerisms, and thoughts are hilarious.  The dialogue is tight, and McBride’s writing ability shines through.  John Brown is a fool, and his lofty ambitions of freeing slaves clouds his judgment and risks other people’s lives.

Though The Good Lord Bird is fiction, McBride stays true to the historical event.  This is one of those books that can be read for fun, but should be read for its insight into humanity, religion, identity, and race.  This novel is touching and beautifully written.  I would have liked it to be a tad bit shorter, but Little Onion’s adventures are entertaining and he is an endearing character.  I definitely recommend The Good Lord Bird to anyone.

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