Published by Riverhead Books on August 20th 2013
Source: Library Book
From the bestselling author of The Color of Water and Song Yet Sung comes the story of a young boy born a slave who joins John Brown’s antislavery crusade—and who must pass as a girl to survive. Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1857, when the region is a battleground between anti- and pro-slavery forces. When John Brown, the legendary abolitionist, arrives in the area, an argument between Brown and Henry’s master quickly turns violent. Henry is forced to leave town—with Brown, who believes he’s a girl.
Over the ensuing months, Henry—whom Brown nicknames Little Onion—conceals his true identity as he struggles to stay alive. Eventually Little Onion finds himself with Brown at the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859—one of the great catalysts for the Civil War.
An absorbing mixture of history and imagination, and told with McBride’s meticulous eye for detail and character, The Good Lord Bird is both a rousing adventure and a moving exploration of identity and survival.
So some of you know that I joined my local library’s book club and this is what we’re reading for February. This book and last month’s book (Euphoria by Lily King) is exactly why I joined. It’s literary fiction, something I don’t read much of, and so the fact that I’m really enjoying it is like a little bookish gift.
The Good Lord Bird is about a young boy, Henry, who is mistaken for a girl by abolitionist John Brown, who frees Little Onion (the name he gives Henry). Henry, now Onion, ends up traveling with John Brown’s rag tag band of ruffians. There’s danger and humor and tragedy and while I’ve read lots of books set during the Civil War and in the aftermath, I don’t know that I’ve read many about the years leading up to the Civil War. McBride’s writing is smooth and flowing, and I never feel like I’m reading a history book even though the book is rich in history.
The book club as a whole seemed to really love the book- although there were a few members that were taken aback by the language of the book. McBride must have researched the hell out of this book- he nails not just the language and slang of the era, but also the dialects. And he doesn’t attempt to clean up the past, so that includes terms for people we consider derogatory now. Here’s my opinion on it: Yes, it’s uncomfortable for me as a white woman to read certain epithets. But it should make me uncomfortable. I don’t ever want to get comfortable with certain words. Being made uncomfortable isn’t a bad thing- it forces us to examine why it makes us feel that way.
My only complaint with the book is that I wanted more of Onion’s life post-John Brown. There were some details brought up in the beginning of the book that are never explored (like why Onion was thought to be a woman by his church congregation). This book had me running to Google to learn more about the events in the book- I’m ashamed about how little I knew about the John Brown and Harpers Ferry incident- despite growing up in Virginia. I am seriously thinking of dragging the Hubs to Harpers Ferry soon, because there’s a cute BB in town.
What We’re Reading Next: