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The Good Lord Bird PDF, ePub eBook 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 ab 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.

30 review for The Good Lord Bird

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    ****NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER**** “The old face, crinkled and dented with canals running every which way, pushed and shoved up against itself for a while, till a big old smile busted out from beneath 'em all, and his grey eyes fairly glowed. It was the first time I ever saw him smile free. A true smile. It was like looking at the face of God. And I knowed then, for the first time, that him being the person to lead the colored to freedom weren't no lunacy. It was something he knowed true inside h ****NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER**** “The old face, crinkled and dented with canals running every which way, pushed and shoved up against itself for a while, till a big old smile busted out from beneath 'em all, and his grey eyes fairly glowed. It was the first time I ever saw him smile free. A true smile. It was like looking at the face of God. And I knowed then, for the first time, that him being the person to lead the colored to freedom weren't no lunacy. It was something he knowed true inside him. I saw it clear for the first time. I knowed then, too, that he knowed what I was - from the very first.” John Brown the abolitionist. The narrator of our tale is Henry/Henrietta Shackleford who is peacefully growing up a slave on the Kansas frontier... until John Brown shows up. In an ensuing argument between John Brown and Henry’s owner the boy’s father ends up dead. Henry is spirited away to freedom and none too happy about it. Later when Brown is on lecture tour he asks Henry to participate. ”And I might ask you to tell some of our donors about your life of deprivation and starvation as a slave. Being hungry and all. Whipped scandalous, and them type of things. You can tell them that.” I didn’t want to confess to him I weren’t never hungry as a slave, nor was never whipped scandalous. Fact is, only time I was hungry and eating out of garbage barrels and sleeping out in the cold was when I was free with him. Now Henry is obviously a boy, but because of a mixup from the beginning John Brown thinks he is a girl. See, my true name is Henry Shackleford. But the Old Man heard Pa say “Henry ain’t a,” and took it to be “Henrietta.” which is how the Old Man’s mind worked. Whatever he believed, he believed. It didn’t matter to him whether it was really true or not. He just changed the truth till it fit him. He was a real white man. So Henry soon finds himself in a dress and most of the time it works for him because the Old Man didn’t believe in women fighting. Henry dreams about the carefree days when he was a slave living in relative comfort before he was caught up in Brown’s crazy schemes to free the black man. Sometimes being in a dress doesn’t work so well, for instance, when he meets Frederick Douglass. He squeezed the back of my neck, then stroked it with fat fingers. “This slender neck, the prominent nose--this too, belongs to the slave owner. They feel it belongs to them. They take what is not rightly theirs. They know not you, Harlot Shackleford.” “Henrietta.” “Whatever. They know not you, Henrietta. They know you as property. They know not the spirit inside you that gives you your humanity. They care not about the pounding of your silent and lustful heart, thirsting for freedom; your carnal nature, craving the wide, open spaces that they have procured for themselves. You’re but chattel to them, stolen property to be squeezed, used, savaged, and occupied.” Well all that tinkering and squeezing and savaging made me right nervous, ‘specially since he was doing it his own self, squeezing and savaging my arse, working his hand down toward my mechanicals as he spoke the last, with his eyes all dewy, so I hopped to my feet. MR. DOUGLASS!!!, you forget yourself sir. Frederick Douglass may have had designs on our Little Onion. James McBride does confess to us that all that Henry “Little Onion” Shackleford says may not be exactly true. "I love the language of, you know, the old, black, country man with a blues guitar and ... boots and the quick banter. ... I just love that voice and I wanted this character to be an old man looking back on his life and then telling a, just a grand whopper." James Brown, inflamed with righteous indignation, and convinced that the Lord was on his side starts a war, a crusade, against slavery. The powder keg that is waiting to be lit is in Kansas, a state that must come into the union as a free state. Missouri pro-slavers are riding throughout Kansas intimidating Anti-slavery settlers and even burned the town of Lawrence. Brown’s followers sliced and diced five pro-slavers with broadswords in retaliation. A tad radical. He raises an army and fights in several skirmishes with Missouri pro-slavery militia. In the middle of all this is his good luck charm; Little Onion, the schemer, who is trying like hell to get away from this crazy man. Between all the hours of feverish praying and the constant lecturing Henry knows he can’t be the only one that thinks The Old Man’s cheese had slid off his biscuit. Henry meets a whole cast of interesting characters during his pell mell journey around the United States and Canada. The descriptions that James McBride crafts of these characters are so memorable, and so creative that I feel like I was standing there with Little Onion when he met them. Like Harriet Tubman. Them eyes were staring down at me. I can’t say they was kind eyes. Rather they was tight as balled fists. Full. Firm. Stirred. The wind seemed to live in that woman’s face. Looking at her was like staring at a hurricane. Harriet Tubman, her face was like looking into a hurricane. Or how about Pie, the whore that Henry falls head over heels in love with. She was a mulatto woman. Skin as brown as a deer’s hide, with high cheekbones and big brown dewy eyes as big as silver dollars. She was a head taller than me but seemed taller. She wore a flowered blue dress of the type whores naturally favored, and that thing was so tight that when she moved, the daisies got mixed up with the azaleas. She walked like a warm room full of smoke. Or how about Darg. He had a thick chest, wide shoulders, and big, thick arms. He wore a straw hat an coveralls and a shawl around his shoulders. His lips was the color of hemp rope, and his eyes was so small and close together, they might as well have been shoved in the same socket. That fool was ugly enough to make you think the Lord put him together with His eyes closed, guessing. But there was power in that man, too, he was raw powerful, and looked big enough to pick up a house. It all culminates in a final desperate plan to take Harper’s Ferry, liberate the weapons stored there, and give them to the negroes so they can fight for their freedom. Part of Henry’s job was to HIVE the negroes, but no matter how much buzzing he did he found most of the slaves unwilling to risk their lives for freedom especially with a CRAZY WHITE MAN. The Longer the campaign the more GOD LIKE his appearance became. John Brown accepted long before even the most fervent abolitionists that peaceful calls for the ending of slavery were never going to lead the blacks any closer to freedom. He knew the entrenched ideas of the Southern culture and their economic ties to slave labor would not be changed without militant insurrection. John Brown fought his own civil war before Lincoln was even elected president. He was, in my opinion, insane, but unswervingly committed to his cause, and certainly on the right side of history. He was a man from Connecticut, who instead of sitting around in meeting houses talking about the horrors of slavery, threw himself into this battle before most of the country had even a glimmer of a thought that a war would be necessary to purge this barbaric practice. Change is so difficult that maybe, we will always need a few bat shit crazy people to force us to move forward. “Whatever you is, Onion," he said, "be it full.” Highly recommended!! If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    This was an extremely difficult read as I was constantly struggling with the thin lines satire cautiously walks. When does satire become mockery? When does it become buffoonery? When does respect give way to disrespect? These are questions I kept asking throughout my read. Because I was filled with so many questions - both morally and intellectually - I couldn't help but hold this book, and the author, in high regards. McBride takes a difficult subject and puts it out there. On the surface, it's This was an extremely difficult read as I was constantly struggling with the thin lines satire cautiously walks. When does satire become mockery? When does it become buffoonery? When does respect give way to disrespect? These are questions I kept asking throughout my read. Because I was filled with so many questions - both morally and intellectually - I couldn't help but hold this book, and the author, in high regards. McBride takes a difficult subject and puts it out there. On the surface, it's a funny little book about slavery and John Brown, but it demands a thorough examination - one I hope to see put forth in institutions of learning. Onion is such a layered character with such strong symbolism to what it means to be black in America. The idea of American Folklore is put forth to examination and questioning. History is challenged by questioning its overseers and those charged with its dissemination. There were times I felt uncomfortable reading certain lines and/or passages, but once I moved past my own emotions (anger, hurt, disbelief, guilt, etc.) I was able to see the bigger landscape McBride was putting forth for further examination. These characters are caricatures that an author has put forth in hopes of opening windows and doors into a past lost, forgotten and guiltily tossed aside. But I would also say the same for most historical accounts of "great" men and women. This is a book I'll be reading over and over in hopes of peeling back the layers that make it such an emotional and complex read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Here’s what I knew prior to reading The Good Lord Bird: § That some guy in the history books named Brown tried to eradicate racial injustice. § That this guy was not the same Brown who took on the Board of Education. He was from slavery days. § That Harper’s Ferry was a place, not a boat. And something of historical importance took place there, though I was fuzzy on exactly what. § That Frederick Douglass was a famous black orator and abolitionist with an impressive head of hair. § That slavery was a Here’s what I knew prior to reading The Good Lord Bird: § That some guy in the history books named Brown tried to eradicate racial injustice. § That this guy was not the same Brown who took on the Board of Education. He was from slavery days. § That Harper’s Ferry was a place, not a boat. And something of historical importance took place there, though I was fuzzy on exactly what. § That Frederick Douglass was a famous black orator and abolitionist with an impressive head of hair. § That slavery was a rotten deal for the slaves. They were abused, dehumanized and were denied elemental freedoms. § That McBride’s book was attracting the attention of critics and award committees. Here’s what I came to know afterwards: § That John Brown was a religious man, a dedicated abolitionist, and not afraid to die in his crusade against slavery. He seemed to be among the first to recognize that negotiations alone would not work; that it had come to a point where war was the only recourse left to abolish the institution. However, commanding such a small army (about half of which were his sons), his goals were rightly considered quixotic. § A former slave boy in his pre-teens provided the colorful narrative voice. He was posing as a girl since Brown mistakenly thought he was one, which was just fine with Henry aka Henrietta aka Onion since it excused him from soldiering. In young Henry’s telling, Brown was almost a caricature – certainly delusional. Even so, you come away with a sense of knowing the man well. He was completely dedicated to the cause and figured having God on his side was his ace in the hole. § The book followed the crooked path from Kansas Territory to Harper’s Ferry, VA with Brown and his small band fighting slavery the best they could along the way. The coup de grace was supposed to be the takeover of the armory at Harper’s Ferry at which point many slaves were meant to join the fight for their freedom. Having this to drive the plot – actual history mixed with the fiction – was a big plus. § The portrait of Frederick Douglass probably did cross the border into caricature. I won’t go into particulars, but predilections involving women and strong drink seemed exaggerated and his actual accomplishments (which Wikipedia indicates were many) were downplayed. I’m not sure what McBride’s purpose was in doing this. It’s no doubt something interviewers have asked him. In any case, Douglass did not fare as well as the Old Man (Brown) or Harriet Tubman did in PR terms. § Like I said before, we all know already what a terrible chapter slavery was in our national history. What was interesting to consider after reading the book was something McBride was clever to do. Through Henrietta he adopted a much lighter tone: more humorous and meek, less severe and morally outraged. In fact, little Onion said he was never hungry as a slave, whereas he often felt starved riding with Brown. This is not to say that slavery was anything but horrible and degrading. I think McBride’s choice was meant to spare us the narrative sledgehammer that might have made us think of slaves as victims only – an exceedingly sad class in the abstract – without thinking of them first as the individuals they were. McBride developed his characters well so that by the time late in the book when Henry said this: ”Being a Negro means showing your best face to the white man every day. You know his wants, his needs, and watch him proper. But he don't know your wants. He don't know your needs or feelings or what's inside you, for you ain't equal to him in no measure. You just a nigger to him. A thing: like a dog or a shovel or a horse. Your needs and wants got no track, whether you is a girl or a boy, a woman or a man, or shy or fat, or don't eat biscuits, or can't suffer the change of weather easily. What difference do it make? None to him, for you is living on the bottom rail.” it really resonated. § The award committees knew what they were doing. It was exuberant, entertaining, and thought-provoking. There was one part of the plot I didn’t like where a character did something I thought was contrived and inconsistent as a part of the narrative machination, but I’ve forgiven him for it since it did set up an important scene later on. And other aspects of the book more than made up for the fumble. The writing was vivid, the history was interesting, and riff on the slavery theme was creative. McBride has a background in music so he surely knows how standards in the jazz idiom will depart, at times, from the familiar melody to focus instead on nuances that can expand it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    William2

    A real corker. The action is set around abolitionist John Brown's raid on the Harpers Ferry armory in 1859, which helped precipitate the American Civil War (1861-65). Brown's plan was to steal tens of thousands of rifles from the sleepy, rural armory. With them he would arm fugitive slaves hiding in the Blue Ridge Mountains against their so-called masters. It didn't quite work out. Brown and nineteen others were hung for the attempt. I like that it's a folksy tale without literary hi-jinx. The wh A real corker. The action is set around abolitionist John Brown's raid on the Harpers Ferry armory in 1859, which helped precipitate the American Civil War (1861-65). Brown's plan was to steal tens of thousands of rifles from the sleepy, rural armory. With them he would arm fugitive slaves hiding in the Blue Ridge Mountains against their so-called masters. It didn't quite work out. Brown and nineteen others were hung for the attempt. I like that it's a folksy tale without literary hi-jinx. The whole thing—prefaced by a hilarious news story dated 1966—is said to be gleaned from the newly discovered slave narrative of one Henry "the Onion" Shackleton, the only survivor of the raid. The beauty of this sort of writing is that it gets out if its own way, leaving the greater narrative arc open to view. It's interesting how some of the constructions here—the tropes—their economy and method of proceeding, remind me of E.L. Doctorow. I'll have to think some more about that. To create convincing speech of the period, McBride makes interesting use of solecisms—such as runned for ran, set for sat, gived for gave, throwed for threw, hisself for himself, and incorrect subject-verb agreement as in: "We has come to free the Negro. And you is our prisoner." There are intentional clichés, too, figures of speech which are key to the Onion's idiom. Because this non-standard English is consistently rendered throughout, it never seems a burden to read, as overwrought dialect can often be. See William Faulkner's Flags In the Dust, his third novel, for an example of such overwrought dialect. By contrast, McBride's novel is fresh, broadly funny, a delight. Highly recommended. N.B. — A movie is in the works with author McBride as producer and Liev Schreiber, who will play the fiery abolitionist John Brown, also serving as producer. Henry "the Onion" Shackleton is to be played by Jayden Smith. Let's hope they do a good job.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Margitte

    "They call that a 'Good Lord Bird,'" Fred tells Onion. "'It's so pretty that when man sees it, he says, "Good Lord." … A perfect metaphor for the abolitionist John Brown who led a pathetic band of followers, called the Pottawatomie Rifles, in the raid of a federal government arsenal at Harper's Ferry in West Virginia in 1859. The band of followers were nothing but a ragtag assortment of fifteen of the scrawniest, bummiest, saddest-looking individuals you ever saw. Many sources regards this real e "They call that a 'Good Lord Bird,'" Fred tells Onion. "'It's so pretty that when man sees it, he says, "Good Lord." … A perfect metaphor for the abolitionist John Brown who led a pathetic band of followers, called the Pottawatomie Rifles, in the raid of a federal government arsenal at Harper's Ferry in West Virginia in 1859. The band of followers were nothing but a ragtag assortment of fifteen of the scrawniest, bummiest, saddest-looking individuals you ever saw. Many sources regards this real event and John Brown's rebellion against slavery as the trigger of the American Civil War. Onion, don’t forget it. If anyone asks, I’m a miner, which is true, for I mines the souls of men, the conscience of a nation, the gold of the insane institution! John Brown was not only a devotee to the Almighty, but also a plain terror in the praying department. His prayers often lasted two to three hours, leaving him without an audience by the time he opened his eyes, since everyone left the congregation while his eyes were closed. The deeply religious Brown was ... prone to stop on his horse in the middle of the afternoon, cup his hand to his ear and say: ‘Shh. I’m getting messages from our Great Redeemer Who stoppeth time itself on our behalf.’ A fictional, and, more or less, twelve-year old freed slave boy Henry "The Onion" Shackleford, is the narrator of this tragicomedy. After being kidnapped by John Brown, and mistakenly taken for a girl, Henry becomes Henrietta, a transvestite, living as a girl, and John Brown's new good luck charm. In kind-of Mark Twain-esque prose, John Brown becomes a slightly mad, comic caricature-like character with a direct path to The Almighty which leads to one calamity after another. He would eventually be captured and killed for his actions. While addressing serious issues in the book, including the plight of 'mulattos', and the 'Negroes' who watched white people deciding their fate without asking them to speak at meetings; and most slaves not willing to be freed since they had a good life and did not trust the rebellion, the style of the book is relentlessly humorous. A dark comedy of errors executed perfectly. The southern rhythmic tone in the prose lends charm to the tale: Henry: Most women wouldn’t go near him(his father), including my Ma, who closed her eyes in death bringing me to this life. She was said to be a gentle, high-yaller woman. “Your Ma was the only woman in the world man enough to hear my holy thoughts,” Pa boasted, “for I’m a man of many parts.” Whatever them parts was, they didn’t add up to much, for all full up and dressed to the nines, complete with boots and three-inch top hat, Pa only come out to ’bout four feet eight inches tall, and quite a bit of that was air. The irony is that the reader pirouettes boisterously towards the tragic ending for John Brown, thanks to James McBride's interpretation of this part of history. However, John Brown walks out of this tale a bigger hero than ever before. A fantastic, refreshing read in the historical fiction genre.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Gary the Bookworm

    If Mark Twain and Mel Brooks had ever collaborated, they would have invented a comic character like Henry(etta) Shackleford, a light-skinned slave boy who is freed by the American Abolitionist John Brown and who passes as a girl for most of The Good Lord Bird. It is lucky for us that James McBride thought to create him and to place him at the center of Brown's bloody and quixotic leap into immortality. As the first person narrator, Henry paints a complex portrait of Brown that is both laudatory If Mark Twain and Mel Brooks had ever collaborated, they would have invented a comic character like Henry(etta) Shackleford, a light-skinned slave boy who is freed by the American Abolitionist John Brown and who passes as a girl for most of The Good Lord Bird. It is lucky for us that James McBride thought to create him and to place him at the center of Brown's bloody and quixotic leap into immortality. As the first person narrator, Henry paints a complex portrait of Brown that is both laudatory and mildly mocking. Among the novel's many pleasures are the different metaphors he employs to describe Brown's madness: "Seemed like his peanut had popped out of his shell";"he was as upside down as them two rivers";"a bit off his biscuit." He never denigrates Brown's selfless martyrdom but he takes glee in describing Brown's penchant for prolonged prayer: "Old John Brown could work the Lord into just about any aspect of his comings and goings in life, including using the privy....I'd say on average he prayed about twice an hour, not counting meals." Although Henry is caught in the crosscurrents of slavery, terrorism, fanaticism and farce, he maintains a pragmatic optimism and a keen sense of the absurd: "I was never hungry when I was a slave. Only when I got free was I eating out of garbage bags." Henry, like Twain's Huck Finn, is an irreverent observer of human behavior. He gradually comes under Brown's spell: "He was a good kind lunatic, and he couldn't no more be a sane man in his transactions with his fellow white man than you and I can bark like a dog, for he didn't speak their language." By the time they reach Harpers Ferry, typically later than they'd planned, they'd lost both Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman. Without them the anticipated slave insurrection never happens. McBride adroitly balances the multiple myths swirling around Brown and the other historical figures without ignoring the humor inherent in their various contradictions. Not only has he made an important contribution to historical fiction, but in the character of Henry, he has injected a little sass - and a whole lot of sense - into the ongoing conversation about race in America.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ij

    The Good Lord Bird Written by: James McBride, Copyrighted in 2013 Published By: Riverhead Books, (Hardback) “I was born a colored man and don’t you forget it. But I lived as a colored woman for seventeen years.” The Good Lord Bird is written in three parts Free Deeds (Kansas), Slave Deeds (Missouri), and Legend (Virginia). Henry was a slave who along with his father (Pa) belonged to the owner (Dutch Henry Sherman) of Dutch Henry’s Tavern, in southern Kansas. Henry’s father worked as a barber at the The Good Lord Bird Written by: James McBride, Copyrighted in 2013 Published By: Riverhead Books, (Hardback) “I was born a colored man and don’t you forget it. But I lived as a colored woman for seventeen years.” The Good Lord Bird is written in three parts Free Deeds (Kansas), Slave Deeds (Missouri), and Legend (Virginia). Henry was a slave who along with his father (Pa) belonged to the owner (Dutch Henry Sherman) of Dutch Henry’s Tavern, in southern Kansas. Henry’s father worked as a barber at the tavern. An old man took the barber chair who Henry describes as “a stooped, skinny feller, fresh off the prairie, smelling like buffalo dung, with a nervous twitch in his jaw and a chin full of ragged whiskers.” The old man talked to Henry’s Pa about the Bible which was Pa’s favorite subject since he thought preaching the Gospel was his main job. Soon the subject of slavery came up and the old man made it clear he stood against slavery. The old man thought Henry was a girl, him having curly hair and being clothed in a potato sack. Pa tried to tell him, “Massa, my Henry ain’t a …,” when the old man interrupted him. That’s how Henry became Henrietta. Dutch Henry did not like the way this conversation was going and soon became aware that the old man who had identified himself as Shubel Isaac was in fact John Brown, the abolitionist. A shootout ensued and Henry’s Pa was killed. John Brown rode off with Henry. Henry considered himself kidnapped by the old man and his thoughts were geared to getting back to the tavern, ASAP. Plus, he had not forgotten the old man had gotten his Pa killed. The old man talked to Henry as if he should be happy to be free. He handed Henry his good luck charm which Henry did not know what it was but assume he had be handed food took a bite out of the small onion. That when Henry/Henrietta got the nick name Onion. They soon caught up with the old man’s army (about fifteen (15) men) which consisted of mostly of his sons. He introduced Onion as a girl and Henry did not speak up otherwise. Onion was put under the care of Fred who was considered slow minded. Fred soon found out the Onion was not a girl, but did not tell. Henry has many adventures, comparable to a Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn; during his time with the old man in Kansas, but soon finds himself in Pikesville, Missouri. In Pikesville he meets Pie a mulatto prostitute at the Pikesville Hotel. Henry falls for Pie and is ready to take off the nice dress the old man had given him, but, he kept up the charade and remained a girl. The time span from leaving the old man in Kansas until he sees him again in Pikesville is about two (2) years. However, McBride covers this time in six short chapters. The last part of the story is titled Virginia; however, the old man and Henry do quite a bit of traveling during the next sixteen (16) chapters. They meet Harriett Tubman in Canada and Frederick Douglas in New York. We all know the story ends in Harpers Ferry. Harpers Ferry was then part of the state of Virginia. There is historical evidence that John Brown did actually meet with Tubman and Douglas, though we know Henry was not with him. The story was humorous with Henry escaping trouble many times. Henry had one time to be responsible and missed this when he failed to give John Brown and important message concerning a password and response. This off course may have changed history. I noted that while Henry says he “lived as a colored woman for seventeen years,” the story only covers him from age ten (10) to fourteen (14). I recommend this book to anyone interested in John Brown or a good story. The book was well written and the author received the 2013 National Book Award for fiction.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Shelley Fearn

    As the Reader's Advisory Librarian in a library system, I read many, many books. There are only a few that I would truly consider to be works of lasting significance. This is one such book. In my reading I was struck with the story. For me, it started as a very entertaining recounting of Onion’s adventures when he is “liberated” by John Brown in Kansas during the Border War (1854-1861). I thought that it would be a story similar to those portrayed in the movies O Brother, Where Art Thou and Littl As the Reader's Advisory Librarian in a library system, I read many, many books. There are only a few that I would truly consider to be works of lasting significance. This is one such book. In my reading I was struck with the story. For me, it started as a very entertaining recounting of Onion’s adventures when he is “liberated” by John Brown in Kansas during the Border War (1854-1861). I thought that it would be a story similar to those portrayed in the movies O Brother, Where Art Thou and Little Big Man. As the novel progressed, I realized that hidden in the wonderfully folksy language, was a story of great import. Within Onion’s recounting of the events are important truths about race, religion, and humanity. Then as the story moved toward the Harpers Ferry raid, I was almost shocked to find the story so suspenseful that I had to keep closing the book. I knew how the story would end and yet when the end of the novel came, I found myself close to tears. I rarely am so impressed with a book. Don’t miss The Good Lord Bird. (I'm hoping that McBride's book will be submitted for a major award -- The Pulitzer Prize submission window is closing soon.)

  9. 4 out of 5

    Craig Pittman

    Well, I really did want to like this book a lot more than I did. After all, it won a National Book Award and got a rave from the NYT. Who am I to challenge that? And the ending packs a wallop, that's for sure. The problem is all the hills you have to climb to get there. "The Good Lord Bird" is a novel about race, religion, gender, the American frontier, history and the ivory-billed woodpecker (the bird of the title, because people who saw it were so astonished they cried out, "Good Lord!"). In ot Well, I really did want to like this book a lot more than I did. After all, it won a National Book Award and got a rave from the NYT. Who am I to challenge that? And the ending packs a wallop, that's for sure. The problem is all the hills you have to climb to get there. "The Good Lord Bird" is a novel about race, religion, gender, the American frontier, history and the ivory-billed woodpecker (the bird of the title, because people who saw it were so astonished they cried out, "Good Lord!"). In other words, it covers a lot of ground in its 417 pages. McBride, author of the acclaimed memoir "The Color of Water," tells his tale in the voice of former slave Henry Shackleford (note the irony of the name). As a boy in Kansas, Henry is "liberated" from bondage by none other than John Brown himself -- who then accidentally kills Shackleford's father during their getaway. Because light-skinned Henry is wearing nothing but a potato sack, and because Brown mishears something that Henry's father says, Brown treats the boy as if he's a girl named Henrietta, and Henry goes along with the ruse. As he puts it, he is “traveling incog-Negro." Because he's hungry, Henry wolfs down the first piece of food that Brown hands him -- which turns out to be a filthy raw onion that Brown's been carrying as a good luck charm. Afterward Brown calls Henry "Onion" and declares that the child is now his good luck charm, or rather, his symbol of Heaven's favor, just like a feather from the "Lord God Bird," which today we know as the ivory-billed woodpecker. Brown gives his newest recruit an ivory-billed feather to wear too. Despite being a coward who's constantly looking for a way to run off to the North, "Onion" goes along with John Brown on raids, accompanies him in dodging pro-slavery mobs. He later rides along as Brown meets Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass prior to the ill-fated raid on Harper's Ferry, Va. (where there's a cameo by future Confederate general Jeb Stuart). In between is an interlude where Henry helps out around a bordello that illustrates the class divisions among even the slaves and how some of them could be the biggest enemies of abolitionists like Brown who were trying to free them. Henry has few illusions about Brown, referring to him repeatedly as bedbug-crazy and also using more colorful phrases to express doubts about his mental state: "Seemed like his peanut had poked out the shell all the way," and "the Old Man's cheese had slid off his biscuit.” But in the end he comes to respect his pursuit of a noble goal, if not his method of getting there. As those examples show, Henry's voice is a beaut, with a patois that mixes comic overstatement and archaic formality. He sounds like a distant cousin to Charles Portis' Mattie from "True Grit" with a bit of Twain's "Huck Finn" thrown in. It's an impressive bit of ventriloquism, since Henry is telling this story in his old age, not unlike the protagonist in Thomas Berger's "Little Big Man." But at times McBride repeats certain phrases and observations -- that Brown's boots are so worn that his toes stick out, for instance, gets mentioned at least three times -- and these and other bits of business let his mask slip a bit. It's as if, during this expert ventriloquism routine, the puppet master suddenly begins moving his lips. McBride writes some great dramatic scenes -- a hanging to thwart a slave revolt during which a woman named Sibonia shows Henry how he should act in the face of persecution; Henry's conversation with Tubman, who gives him her shawl to use as a door-opener to other slaves; and the raid itself and all the ways in which it went wrong. But overall the tone is comical as Henry scrambles to hide his true nature as he falls in love twice, and Brown breaks into long-winded prayers that have to be interrupted by one of his sons before everyone falls asleep. The comic tone extends to the chapter in which Brown and "Onion" spend three weeks staying with Frederick Douglass. Bear in mind that the real Douglass was born into slavery, learned to read despite the wishes of his owner, risked his life teaching other slaves to read, was sent to work for a notorious "slave-breaker" whom he then licked in a fight, and made two failed attempts at escaping before his third successful bid for freedom. Once free, Douglass became a prominent figure among abolitionist circles, telling his story and advocating for ending slavery. He also never forgot that he was being sought for recapture as the nation's most prominent escaped slave, and at one point fled to Ireland to avoid arrest. But you won't hear about any of that in "The Good Lord Bird." Instead the Douglass we get is just a self-important hustler, a guy with a big head in more ways than one who's mostly in love with the sound of his own voice. This Douglass tries to seduce "Onion" (then somewhere between 12 and 14) by getting the "girl" drunk -- a plan that backfires because Henry, thanks to his whorehouse experience with liquor, drinks him under the table. That chapter put me off this book. I didn't understand why McBride chose to depict Douglass that way, except for some cheap laughs, and I think a sharper editor would have urged McBride to either cut it or rewrite it. Should there be a movie version, though, I'm sure this scene will be regarded as a comic highlight, which would be a real shame. Still, I would urge people to read this book for themselves, because it does say (usually in a sly way) some important things about race and identity in this country. Those are two issues that we're still grappling with all these years later after John Brown's body began a-moldering in the grave. PS: If you want to know more about Frederick Douglass, I highly recommend the bio by historian William S. McFeely: http://www.amazon.com/Frederick-Dougl...

  10. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    A wonderful tragicomedy about the life of the abolitionist John Brown told from the perspective of a fictional mascot nicknamed the Onion, a freed slave boy assumed to be a girl. The child, Henry, is ten and serving as a shoeshine boy with his barber father in Missouri, when John Brown’s raiders attack the tavern of their owner and abduct him after his father is accidentally killed in the gunfire. Henry plays it safe to accede to their presumption he is a girl and assumes the name Henrietta. Bro A wonderful tragicomedy about the life of the abolitionist John Brown told from the perspective of a fictional mascot nicknamed the Onion, a freed slave boy assumed to be a girl. The child, Henry, is ten and serving as a shoeshine boy with his barber father in Missouri, when John Brown’s raiders attack the tavern of their owner and abduct him after his father is accidentally killed in the gunfire. Henry plays it safe to accede to their presumption he is a girl and assumes the name Henrietta. Brown keeps him close to hand as he considers “her” to bring good luck. Though this literary license we get a realistic version of a man I had long just pigeonholed as an insane and violent fanatic and religious nut. Henry notices a surprising kindness in the man from the start: One of the mice fell off the rock crevice directly onto the Old Man’s map. The Old Man studied it a moment, and it studied him. …He carefully picked up the mouse and gently placed it back in the rock crevice with the rest of its brother mice, and they set there quiet as pups, peeking over the Old Man’s shoulder as he stared at his map. I reckoned they was like me. Henry hopes to run away, but initial attempts fail and he becomes resigned to accompanying Brown’s rag-tag band around Kansas fighting pro-slavery settlers and militia. He develops a special friendship with one of Brown’s sons in the group, Fred, who is intellectually challenged but keeps Henry’s secret when he learns he is a boy, assuming him to be a “sissy”. He feels bad about pretending to be a girl to the others, but he takes naturally to the art of it as a means to garner deference and protection: Truth is, lying came natural to all Negroes during slave time, for no man or woman in bondage ever prospered stating their true thoughts to the boss. Much of colored life was an act, and the Negroes that sawed wood and said nothing lived the longest. Henry has a jaundiced view about religion and like some of Brown’s sons in the group has to struggle to tolerate his framing of all their actions into fulfilling God’s plan. But as with Huck Finn when Sunday sermons could make him feel better nigh til Tuesday, Henry gets some good vibes from Brown’s eloquence: The Old Man’s prayers growed up right before your eyes; they was all connected, like stairways running from one floor to another in a house, whereas Fred’s prayers was more like barrels and clothing chests throwed about a fine sitting room. His prayers shot this way and that, cutting hither and yon, and in this way an hour passed. At one point, Henry gets captured by a pro-slavery yahoo who takes him to a bordello in a Missouri town. To avoid getting shanghaied into the trade, Henry makes himself useful to the star prostitute there, Pie, who smites his 12-year old heart from the beginning: …the feeling of ice cream running down my little red lane in summertime weren’t nothing compared to seeing that bundle of beauty coming down them stairs that first time. She would blow the hat off your head. She was a mulatto woman. Skin as brown as a deer’s hide, with high cheekbones and big round dewy eyes as big as silver dollars. She was a head taller than me but seemed taller. She wore a flowered blue dress of the type whores naturally favored, and that thing was so tight that when she moved, the daisies got all mixed up with the azaleas. She walked like a warm room full of smoke. I weren’t no stranger to nature’s ways then, coming on the age of twelve … This woman had the kind of rhythm that you could hear a thousand miles down the Missouri. I wouldn’t throw her outta bed for eating crackers. She was all class. Thus, you can see there is plenty of comic relief to this tall tale. As with Twain, McBride hides a lot of truth amid all the fools and their shenanigans. Henry ends up back with Brown after a couple of years and a few plot twists worthy of Skakespeare. On a trip to New England with Brown to raise money from speeches to crowds of abolitionists, we get a priceless scene with Frederick Douglass in which Henry barely escapes his lecherous advances by getting him drunk. I won’t spoil that, but I will share how the wisdom Henry acquires in beholding the fund raising efforts allows him to separate his growing love for Brown from the strange politics that eventually spawned the Civil War: You would’a thunk that every Pro Slaver, including Dutch, Miss Abby, Chase and all those other low drummers, scammers, four-flushers, and pickpockets, who lived mostly off pennies and generally didn’t treat the Negro any worse than they treated each other, was a bunch of cranks, heathens, and drunks who runned around murdering each other while the Free Staters spent all day setting in church at choir practice and making paper cutout dolls on Wednesday nights. … He weren’t much of a speaker, to be honest, but for once he got the wind in his sails about our Dear Maker Who Restoreth Our Fortunes, he got ‘em going, and the word spread fast, so by the ime we hit the next church, all he had to say was, “I’m John Brown from Kansas, and I’s fighting slavery,” and they roared. They called for them rebels’ heads, announced they’d trounce ‘em, bounce ‘e, kill ‘em,, deaden ‘em where they stood. Some of the women broken into tears once the Old Man spoke. It made me a bit sad, truth be to tell it, to watch them hundreds of white folks crying for the Negro, for there weren’t hardly ever any Negroes present at most of them gatherings, and them that was there was doodied up and quiet as a mouse. It seemed to me the whole business of the Negro’s life out there weren’t no different than it was out west, to my mind. It was like a big, long lynching. Everybody got to make a speech about the Negro but the Negro. Soon thereafter, Brown hatches his famous plot to kick off a slave revolt by taking the federal armory at Harpers Ferry in Virginia (now West Virginia), inspired in part by the successful slave revolution in Haiti. Advanced members of his group rent a farmhouse nearby to prepare and to secretly inspire slaves in the region in advance of the attack. Henry gets tapped to make communications with local slaves about the plan, which most but not all judge to be absurd and hopeless. It has a Zelig feel for Henry to be in the middle of all this, including the famous meeting between Brown and Douglass in which the latter refuses to join in. The comedy gets darker as the action gets more thrilling. In the end, only 22 men participate in the raid, including 8 whites and 14 blacks, which succeeds but does not spark a broader rebellion. They are soon surrounded by militia and later overwhelmed by federal troops, which ironically include Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart, future star generals of the Confederacy. The publicity surrounding the trial and execution of the survivors, Brown and six others, gives Brown a platform and support for his cause, but in the process intensely scares the pro-slavery population, pushing the political process closer to the kick-off of the Civil War less than two years later. All in all, this came off to me a brilliant, funny, and moving performance by McBride. I already loved his memoir and family biography, The Color of Water and his inspiring novel about slavery, Song Yet Sung, which I also recommend.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Perry

    John Brown's body lies a mouldering in the grave / ... / Glory Hally, Hallelujah! Glory Hally, Hallelujah! Glory Hally, Hallelujah! / He's gone to be a soldier in the army of the Lord / His soul is marching on...." "John Brown's Body," Union Army marching song, Am. Civil War, 1861 As the 2013 National Book Award-winning novel begins, Henry Shackleford's memoirs are found in a Delaware church. Henry was a 12-year-old slave in Kansas when taken in by abolitionist firebrand John Brown in 1857 unde John Brown's body lies a mouldering in the grave / ... / Glory Hally, Hallelujah! Glory Hally, Hallelujah! Glory Hally, Hallelujah! / He's gone to be a soldier in the army of the Lord / His soul is marching on...." "John Brown's Body," Union Army marching song, Am. Civil War, 1861 As the 2013 National Book Award-winning novel begins, Henry Shackleford's memoirs are found in a Delaware church. Henry was a 12-year-old slave in Kansas when taken in by abolitionist firebrand John Brown in 1857 under an odd set of circumstances. Brown assumed he was a girl, mistaking the potato sack he was wearing for a dress. Shortly thereafter, Henry earned the nickname "Little Onion" after unwittingly eating part of a rancid onion. Henry stays with Brown's group for a while then spends a couple of years at a Missouri whorehouse, doing odd jobs while continuing to pretend he was a young girl. Once reunited, he travels with Brown on a tour to raise funds/support for the coming "armed insurrection" of slaves in Harpers Ferry, W. Va. The trip included meeting in Rochester, NY with Frederick Douglass (who the author imagines as a polygamist civil rights icon and alcoholic, sexual pervert who tries to seduce 14-year-old Little Onion [still playing the role of a girl]) as well as a memorable encounter across the Canadian border with a serious, strong and understandably cautious Harriet Tubman. The novel proceeds to a remarkably imagined few days prior to the infamous raid when the wily, obsessive Brown makes quixotic plans to take the Harpers Ferry armory to arm area slaves, tasking Little Onion with "hiving the bees"; followed by a reimagining of the failed raid that became a primary firestarter to the American Civil War. "It occurred to me then that you is everything you are in this life at every moment. And that includes loving somebody. If you can't be your own self, how can you love somebody? How can you be free? That pressed on my heart like a vise right then. Just mashed me down.” [Henry "Little Onion" Shackleford] I was drawn in by the young protagonist, who is somewhat reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn in his journey along the Mississippi River, his connection with an animated and pious Brown, his development as seen through his first person narration which is at first innocent and then cynical. I was fascinated and amused by the hysterical happenings, some classically hilarious dialogue and evocations of haunting imagery.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    This book won the National Book Award, and even though I haven't read the other nominees it was up against, I can see why this was chosen. It takes a little slice of American History, namely John Brown's raids in Kansas territory and his attack on Harper's Ferry in West Virginia, puts human faces and emotions on the raw facts, and makes it come alive. Yes, John Brown was a lunatic, but a lunatic with a cause, which made him a dangerous man. He felt he had been called by God to free the slaves an This book won the National Book Award, and even though I haven't read the other nominees it was up against, I can see why this was chosen. It takes a little slice of American History, namely John Brown's raids in Kansas territory and his attack on Harper's Ferry in West Virginia, puts human faces and emotions on the raw facts, and makes it come alive. Yes, John Brown was a lunatic, but a lunatic with a cause, which made him a dangerous man. He felt he had been called by God to free the slaves and developed a small following of abolitionists and like-minded men, several of whom were his sons and sons-in-law. Henry/Henrietta/Onion was a 10 year old slave whose father died in an altercation with Brown. Somehow Brown got the idea that he was a girl, adopted him to ride along with his "army", and considered Onion, his nickname for him/her, to be a good luck charm. So Onion spent 4 years by his side through thick and thin. Onion tells the story in a voice so wonderfully characteristic that it sings in your ears. It felt to me as though McBride were channelling Mark Twain in this book. There's a lot of irony and reading between the lines and laugh out loud humor in every paragraph. Such as Onion's statement that he had to work harder as a girl than he ever did as a slave.McBride also skewers a lot of sacred cows. His opinion of Frederick Douglas was apparently not too high, as he was not depicted kindly in his few appearances in the book. Also like Twain, the difference between what people say and what they do was a technique used very efficiently to draw their characters. In the end, I grew to love Old John Brown as much as Onion did. A crazy, unlucky, misguided old man, sure, but he held on to his principles til the second they hanged him for them. He did what he believed was right in spite of the cost, and you can't say that about a lot of people. James McBride has written what I hope becomes a classic piece of literature. It certainly has all the right qualities.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Garrett Zecker

    The Good Lord Bird is that book that you read, and then reread immediately because of the striking and breathtaking acrobatics the author makes on the page. I was so impressed with this book that I didn’t want to put it down, nor did I find myself doing anything less than going from laughter to tears to just exclaiming “wow” as I read. It is a masterpiece. McBride in this work is Mark Twain and Quentin Tarentino, with a healthy helping of the humor, violence, sweet honesty, and remarkable awe tha The Good Lord Bird is that book that you read, and then reread immediately because of the striking and breathtaking acrobatics the author makes on the page. I was so impressed with this book that I didn’t want to put it down, nor did I find myself doing anything less than going from laughter to tears to just exclaiming “wow” as I read. It is a masterpiece. McBride in this work is Mark Twain and Quentin Tarentino, with a healthy helping of the humor, violence, sweet honesty, and remarkable awe that we get from both artists. The book is a historical fiction account of the life of the abolitionist John Brown as told through the eyes of a wise Huck-Finn-as-Sarah young man who exhibits all the timidity, bravery, humor, and epiphanies of the timeless character. Known by most as ‘Onion,’ we follow the youngster around through all of his quixotic adventures, barreling through this crucial America as we learn alongside his development just who he is and what is his place in this world. The book is hilarious, touching, and beautiful, and McBride does so many linguistic, scenic, character, tone, and literary tricks throughout the text that it is almost impossible to truly cover everything that makes this book so great. The easy way out for me is to simply say, it is perfect in every way. I will read it again, and again, and recommend it to everyone I know, and then read it to my students and to my son, and I will go on from there, indefinitely. As a fan and scholar of Twain, I can think of no other comparison. I have not read his other works, but as far as I am concerned, the genius displayed in this is so reminiscent of the American greats that I can do nothing more than to laud it as a masterpiece and recommend you read it right away.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth☮

    When I first heard of this book, I saw the cover and didn't think much of it. But then I started seeing it pop up everywhere I turned. When my book group here on goodreads chose it for a summer read, I still had no intention of reading it. Then I finally read some of the description of what the book is about and I thought, "That's interesting." And while many in my book group are only lukewarm on it, I really loved this book. It deals with the famous or infamous John Brown and the uprising at Har When I first heard of this book, I saw the cover and didn't think much of it. But then I started seeing it pop up everywhere I turned. When my book group here on goodreads chose it for a summer read, I still had no intention of reading it. Then I finally read some of the description of what the book is about and I thought, "That's interesting." And while many in my book group are only lukewarm on it, I really loved this book. It deals with the famous or infamous John Brown and the uprising at Harper's Ferry. I have been to Harper's Ferry and read all about the history of John Brown and what moved him to insurrection. It is quite moving to stand in the place (or near it) where all of these events occurred. The narrator of the story is Onion. He is kidnapped (freed) by John Brown and his men while he is enslaved in Kansas Territory. Brown mistakes him for a girl and so Onion maintains this guise throughout his acquaintance with Brown (or Old Man as he is called). Onion is a reluctant participant in Old Man's plans to free all enslaved men. Old Man is passionate and undaunted by doubters in his midst. He holds true to his belief that he is ruled by only one man: God. The picture we get of Brown is one of a man that is a little bit crazy (Onion often makes note of this when around Brown) to pull off his plans, but a man that moves forward in the face of incredible odds nonetheless. The pace is quick and it feels like we are on the road with Onion as his adventures take him to Missouri and Virginia and even to Philadelphia and Boston. The honesty of Onion's voice is often amusing and heart-breaking. He is a child when this all begins, so that lends a sense of wonder to what he witnesses (not all of it bad). The title signifies a bird so beautiful that when a man has the good luck to see it he exclaims, "Good Lord ain't it perfect." And it is a feather of such a bird that keeps Onion safe in his many engagements with gunfire while with Brown and his men. Old Man explains further the point of the Good Lord Bird and how this is connected to Onion and his mission in life now. A book that looks at slavery with a laugh and a wink. One of my favorite lines: "White folks got insane after the Old Man done his bit, they went on a rampage and attacked coloreds for miles. They was scared outta their minds. I reckon in some fashion, they ain't been the same since." Another one: "I do believe he done more against slavery in them last six weeks with letter writings and talking than he ever done raising one gun or sword." I love the language and the tone of the book. This one surprised me and really took me on an adventure.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Evan Leach

    This novel, which took home the National Book Award in 2013, is an odd duck. Author James McBride (most famous for his memoir The Color of Water) constructs this historical fiction novel around John Brown and the 19th century abolitionist movement. But instead of taking a tragic or triumphant tone, as you might expect, McBride presents his story in a folksy, comic fashion. The result is a little uneven, but certainly different. Comedy gold? The tale is narrated by an ex-slave named Onion, who’s pi This novel, which took home the National Book Award in 2013, is an odd duck. Author James McBride (most famous for his memoir The Color of Water) constructs this historical fiction novel around John Brown and the 19th century abolitionist movement. But instead of taking a tragic or triumphant tone, as you might expect, McBride presents his story in a folksy, comic fashion. The result is a little uneven, but certainly different. Comedy gold? The tale is narrated by an ex-slave named Onion, who’s picked up by Brown before the Pottawatomie Massacre and ends up accompanying Brown all the way through Harper’s Ferry. Onion is wearing a dress when he first meets Brown, which causes him to be mistaken for a girl. As a result he decides to double down and pose as a girl for the entire book, which sets up the sort of comic zaniness you would expect. I didn’t think this whole cross-dressing angle was particularly side-splitting, but there you go. Brown's travels give Onion the opportunity to meet such 19th century luminaries as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, which I enjoyed reading about. The most memorable thing about the book is Onion’s homespun narration. McBride does a great job with this, which sets up a lot of the book’s comedy: ”But what he lacked in size, Pa made up for with his voice. My Pa could outyell with his voice any white man who ever walked God’s green earth, bar none. He had a high, thin voice. When he talked, it sounded like he had a Jew’s harp stuck down his throat, for he spoke in pops and bangs and such, which meant speaking with him was a two-for -one deal, being that he cleaned your face and spit-washed it for you at the same time— make that three-for-one, when you consider his breath. His breath smelled like hog guts and sawdust, for he worked in a slaughterhouse for many years, so most colored folks avoided him generally.” The combination of voice and subject matter is reminiscent of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, although The Good Lord Bird is not quite the same caliber. Like Twain, McBride goes for a mix of humor and pathos, which can be a delicate balance to achieve. The finale (the big setpiece you would expect for a book starring John Brown) is strong and probably the closest McBride comes to reaching Huck Finn level heights. All in all I found the humor here to be clever, but rarely laugh-out-loud funny. Some of the dramatic elements were quite good, but the highlight of the novel was Onion’s rustic first-person narration. A fun read, although not one I would have pegged as a major award winner. 3.5 stars.

  16. 4 out of 5

    BAM The Bibliomaniac

    Audiobook # 207 Was not crazy about this book Nothing wrong with it just not my cup of tea

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    John Brown is a problem. He represented the extreme but correct response to slavery times: he just dropped everything and said "Well, that's awful and I'm going to murder everyone who does it," and then he did nothing but that for the rest of his life. So that's great...ish, but he was so bad at it! Like he hardly managed to kill anybody. And plus he was white, and white heroes fighting racism make us feel squidgy. And besides which, check him out: Lookit that fuckin guy, right? He looks like Yos John Brown is a problem. He represented the extreme but correct response to slavery times: he just dropped everything and said "Well, that's awful and I'm going to murder everyone who does it," and then he did nothing but that for the rest of his life. So that's great...ish, but he was so bad at it! Like he hardly managed to kill anybody. And plus he was white, and white heroes fighting racism make us feel squidgy. And besides which, check him out: Lookit that fuckin guy, right? He looks like Yosemite Sam! And that's how he's described in James McBride's National Book Award winning...what is this, a satire? Is it a slave comedy where our narrator wears a silly dress, John Brown is a loony old coot, and Frederick Douglass is a drunk perv? Yeah, more or less it is. Makes it a weird pair with the also-lauded The Known World: that book seems true but isn't, and this one seems totally made up but is in fact, as far as I can tell from a little research, pretty fair accurate. And it's incredibly entertaining. "The hard part about writing about a guy like John Brown," says McBride - also btw the author of The Color of Water, which you maybe read freshman year in college - "is that he was so serious, and his cause was so serious, that most of what's been written about him is really serious and, in my opinion, a little bit boring." And you're like yeah, man, I thought Cloudsplitter was boring too. So here's McBride's antidote, and maybe watching a shitfaced Frederick Douglass chase a cross-dressed teenager around the room is a little too "quit fucking my sacred cow" for you, it was a little for me, but at least it isn't boring. McBride is kidding but not kidding, because he's trying to solve this John Brown problem. Why didn't Douglass show up for John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry? Where was Harriet Tubman? Why was this crazy old white coot the only one who said well fuck it, I'm gonna start shootin' people? I mean, look, the answer was that he totally wasn't. There were like 250 slave revolts, many of which were way bigger than John Brown's pathetic band of starving psychos. Brown's timing and his flair for drama were terrific, but Nat Turner was the original bloody martyr. But McBride likes John Brown. He wants him heroized. Brown is also famous, he points out, because his plan, suicidally stupid as it was, lacked nothing for ambition. Brown was a total failure at running a war, but he was amazing at getting his ass martyred. And that's pretty great, especially if you're crazy. John Brown is the answer to moral relativity, which is how old people explain why they like Gone With The Wind. "People were different back then!" they say. "It looks awful now, sure, but that's just how everyone did it; folks didn't know any better." But here's John Brown for the prosecution. He certainly fucking did know better. It's only domestic terrorism if you're wrong. John Brown was serious business, but he certainly wasn't boring. This book is the same, and I loved it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kelly (and the Book Boar)

    Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/ A young slave named Henry Shackleford gets caught up with abolitionist John Brown and the fight for freedom when Brown kills Henry’s father. A misunderstanding in the heat of the moment also has Brown believing Henry to be a Henrietta - a mistaken identity Henry continues to assume as he tries to stay alive. Ack. This is a hard review to write. Mainly because I didn’t feel anything while I was reading this story. It generally takes me a Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/ A young slave named Henry Shackleford gets caught up with abolitionist John Brown and the fight for freedom when Brown kills Henry’s father. A misunderstanding in the heat of the moment also has Brown believing Henry to be a Henrietta - a mistaken identity Henry continues to assume as he tries to stay alive. Ack. This is a hard review to write. Mainly because I didn’t feel anything while I was reading this story. It generally takes me about a day or day and a half to get through a novel of this size. The Good Lord Bird took me three weeks. The first 100 pages were good and I was really thinking I was going to breeze right through and lovelovelove it, but then the story just became a loop of the same scenes complete with the same dialogue and I wanted to put it down. And put it down was exactly what I did. In the three week span of reading this book, I also read 12 others. By the time I reached the climax and the raid on Harper’s Ferry, I was more than ready to be finished. I will say that Mr. McBride has a wonderful sense of humor and, as this won a National Book Award, he can obviously write. Sadly, he just didn’t write a story that resonated with me.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    Historical novels come in many forms and McBride has gifted us a winner, engaging our every sense and every emotion as we imagine John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry that hastened the start of the Civil War. He places the story in the mouth of an unreliable narrator, Onion, a young boy dressed as a girl, who shares his experience and opinions on how that raid came about and why it failed as an insurgency. Living for years with John Brown’s travelling band gave Onion an up close and personal look Historical novels come in many forms and McBride has gifted us a winner, engaging our every sense and every emotion as we imagine John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry that hastened the start of the Civil War. He places the story in the mouth of an unreliable narrator, Onion, a young boy dressed as a girl, who shares his experience and opinions on how that raid came about and why it failed as an insurgency. Living for years with John Brown’s travelling band gave Onion an up close and personal look at the man and his mission. Funny, propulsive, painful, the words of his main character speak to white and black among us in the same voice, making us laugh before we weep with his insights into the natures of the two races and of wild Connecticut white man John Brown who tried with every fiber of his being to free black slaves. Much of the story is told like an old-fashioned gin-fueled bull session featuring tall tales, joy juice, and laughter that eventually devolves into fighting and tears. The Good Lord Bird, the feared-extinct ivory-billed woodpecker with a thirty-inch wingspan, features in the story as well. Spotting the large bird in the forest is thought to be an exceedingly good omen, though one of John Brown’ many sons unwittingly kills one of the birds—not so good. The feathers of the bird make the rounds of important people in John Brown’s life in the period before the disaster at Harper’s Ferry—being handed off one to another like a talisman to keep them safe. In the end, perhaps, the bird comes to signify the need to consider and keep safe something precious that has no defenses against the evil in the world, something which can be killed at will but that has its place in the circle of life, spreading seeds in fertile soil. Despite, or perhaps because of, the sometimes raucous nature of the tale, our deep interest in the life and cause of John Brown flickers to life, fanned by gales of laughter. I find myself genuinely interested in how much detail is actually known of the men following Brown in that period, and how closely McBride’s description of the disaster at Harper’s Ferry detailed the truth. And, of course, one cannot help but wonder anew how much violence, or the threat of violence, manages to finally galvanize the populace when good intentions and good words are simply insufficient. This is a fine addition to the magnificent fiction long list for the National Book Award for 2013. My suggestion is to read them all since those on the list I have read each deserve honors.

  20. 4 out of 5

    gaudeo

    I'm deeply disappointed not to like this book more, and astonished that it won the National Book Award. In a word, the book is contrived. Blatantly, flagrantly contrived. And throughout, there are few stretches when I was so engrossed in it that I was unconscious of the narration and the author's particular choice of words. (Not to mention the poor storytelling that leads him to repeat details out of suspicion that the reader is not smart enough to pay attention the first time.) What is the purpo I'm deeply disappointed not to like this book more, and astonished that it won the National Book Award. In a word, the book is contrived. Blatantly, flagrantly contrived. And throughout, there are few stretches when I was so engrossed in it that I was unconscious of the narration and the author's particular choice of words. (Not to mention the poor storytelling that leads him to repeat details out of suspicion that the reader is not smart enough to pay attention the first time.) What is the purpose of this book? Clearly, it is not meant to be a straightforward historical depiction of John Brown and his gang and the events that led to Harpers Ferry. Its humor (when, occasionally, it succeeds) is too in-your-face for that. Is it meant to be satirical? Well, where and what are the vices held up to ridicule? The only subject conceivably ridiculed is Brown himself, which undermines any effort to make the story meaningful. Is it merely a tall tale? No, because none of the characters have superhuman powers, and the killing, though expeditious, is sickening. Is it farce? In large measure, yes, this is what it is, given that the figure of Brown is rarely other than a caricature. But to treat the subject of Brown's abolitionism as farcical--no matter how far-out his vision was--does a supreme injustice to all who suffered under the heel of slavery and all who fought so ardently to banish it. I don't recommend the book at all, unless a reader wants to be shortchanged by a specimen of truly misguided writing.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kirk Smith

    I am an absolute fan of historical fiction especially when it is done this well. I've always been curious about John Brown. I can read Wikipedia to gather the facts of his life and study the old photos but he hardly seems more than a historical document. Fiction (this book) steps in and brings it all to life. Big, passionate, foolhardy life. Great story.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    McBride’s latest is a rambunctious imaginative historical adventure tale offering a fresh perspective on a volatile period in American history – John Brown’s zealous quest to free the slaves and the events leading up to raid on Harper’s Ferry. As the book opens in 1856 Kansas Territory, the narrator 10 year-old, Henry “Onion” Shackleford is learning a trade and slave survival tips witnesses his father being killed in a shoot-out between his master and the abolitionist John Brown. With John Brown McBride’s latest is a rambunctious imaginative historical adventure tale offering a fresh perspective on a volatile period in American history – John Brown’s zealous quest to free the slaves and the events leading up to raid on Harper’s Ferry. As the book opens in 1856 Kansas Territory, the narrator 10 year-old, Henry “Onion” Shackleford is learning a trade and slave survival tips witnesses his father being killed in a shoot-out between his master and the abolitionist John Brown. With John Brown winning this round, Henry is scooped up into the folds of John Brown and his crusade, and in the confusion is mistaken for a girl and called Onion. Onion is the perfect combination of youthful naivety and savvy with a dollop of mischief to capture the searing morally complex issues of race and identity of the times. A consummate storyteller, McBride effectively uses sly humor and erudition, along with lyrically rich yet precisely raw language to keep the reader fully engaged in the exploits though we already know what happens at Harper Ferry in 1859. A combination of fictional and real characters highlights both that often issues are not just black and white but many variations in-between the spectrum and it is often an event that will force a person to move from the gray area to one of the ends, and success is often not the event itself but its legacy effect on what comes after. As a fan of historical fiction, I thoroughly enjoyed this fresh look at a pivotal point in our history and the often flawed nature of historical figures. This book is thought-provoking and thought-challenging and long with masterful pacing, intriguing characters, and writing purposely insightful will hold the reader’s attention well past the last page.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    The Good Lord Bird gets four stars on originality alone, although it is also very enjoyable, and surprisingly moving. In a year when many of the books I've read seem to retread familiar patterns and concerns, the picaresque first-person narrative of a pre-teen cross-dressing (but straight) African-American boy experiencing slavery in the Wild West, John Brown's guerilla campaigns, and encounters with the lodestars of the abolition movement is as much of a bracing pick-me-up as the rotgut whisky The Good Lord Bird gets four stars on originality alone, although it is also very enjoyable, and surprisingly moving. In a year when many of the books I've read seem to retread familiar patterns and concerns, the picaresque first-person narrative of a pre-teen cross-dressing (but straight) African-American boy experiencing slavery in the Wild West, John Brown's guerilla campaigns, and encounters with the lodestars of the abolition movement is as much of a bracing pick-me-up as the rotgut whisky our hero/ine Onion loves to pour down his "little red lane" (throat). I have no idea if the colorful idiom in which Onion narrates the book is authentic at all, but it is fun to read. Like so many books these days, Good Lord Bird could have used a careful edit - sometimes phrases and even passages repeat a little too much - but the overall effect is very engrossing. The book started slow. For me at least, Brown's campaigns are the least interesting part of the book, partly because the descriptions of military maneuvers seem repetitive (and also improbable). But both the comic and tragic elements of the book kick into gear during Onion's time as a house slave in a Missouri brothel. Indeed, much of the book is quite broadly funny, which makes it something of a surprise when the story turns genuinely moving and actual heroism comes into play in the book's final chapters. It's a brave project to write a comic novel about slavery. At times, it provokes discomfort (remember Life is Beautiful? same dissonance). It seems almost sacrilegious when Frederick Douglass himself comes in for a lampooning (but it is funny), although thankfully Harriet Tubman retains exactly the majestic power you've imagined she must have had since you first learned about her in second grade. And in another bold move, McBride shows scene after scene of African-American characters behaving selfishly and ignobly - this is what slavery does to people, he stresses, it doesn't tie them together in saintly brotherhood (though there are exceptions), it makes them desperately and singlemindedly focused on their own survival. That's a powerful undertone to the comic riffs on the surface. McBride's bravery and originality make this a very worthwhile read, even when some passages drag and others seem repetitive. I'm never sure if it's a spoiler when it's history, but the final chapters shake off the wry meandering parody of the rest of the book, and you will have tears in your eyes when you read them. We're all venal and fearful, McBride says, but when we're not - it's very powerful indeed.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    Where I got the book: review copy provided by the Historical Novel Society. This review first appeared on the HNS website. Was John Brown a terrorist, martyr, hero, lunatic, saint or deluded fool? After reading The Good Lord Bird I would still hesitate to give a straight answer, although James McBride does appear to be leaning toward a heroic, almost saint-like depiction of the raider of Harper’s Ferry toward the end of this rollicking ride through the latter part of Brown’s life. McBride introduc Where I got the book: review copy provided by the Historical Novel Society. This review first appeared on the HNS website. Was John Brown a terrorist, martyr, hero, lunatic, saint or deluded fool? After reading The Good Lord Bird I would still hesitate to give a straight answer, although James McBride does appear to be leaning toward a heroic, almost saint-like depiction of the raider of Harper’s Ferry toward the end of this rollicking ride through the latter part of Brown’s life. McBride introduces a fictional character into Brown’s small band of followers: the boy Henry Shackleford, who, in a hilarious moment of confusion, takes on a new identity as a girl and finds it too difficult, or frequently too convenient, to shake off. Henry’s lie is clearly identified with the much bigger lie every black character has to assume in order to survive in a world of slavery and endemic racism, while the white characters appear blind to many different levels of truth. Even John Brown, whom Henry admires as an unstoppable force of nature, is seen by him as changing the truth to fit his own views, particularly in his lack of understanding that the slaves he is trying to free are often far more concerned about simple survival than about his principles. The Good Lord Bird takes the iconic events of Brown’s crusade and puts them in a different light, both cruder and more nuanced than the standard story, with unfaltering pace and writing that is finely lyrical even when the characters’ voices are vulgar. The constant use of the word ‘nigger’ may challenge some readers, while others may dislike the dark humor of life on the edge of society. It’s likely this novel will draw strong reactions, and for that reason I would recommend it as a must-read to those interested in American history. Time will tell, but given the writing and subject matter, it has the potential to be one of the significant novels of 2013.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Book Concierge

    Book on CD performed by Michael Boatman. 3.5*** McBride looks at John Brown and Harpers Ferry through the lens of a “freed” slave, Henry Shackleford (known as Onion). Onion narrates the tale, taking the readers from Kansas Territory in 1856 to the events at Harpers Ferry (then in the Commonwealth of Virginia), when abolitionists led by Brown raided the armory in 1859. This was a pivotal event in the onset of the Civil War. Onion is a fictional character, but there are many real historical figures i Book on CD performed by Michael Boatman. 3.5*** McBride looks at John Brown and Harpers Ferry through the lens of a “freed” slave, Henry Shackleford (known as Onion). Onion narrates the tale, taking the readers from Kansas Territory in 1856 to the events at Harpers Ferry (then in the Commonwealth of Virginia), when abolitionists led by Brown raided the armory in 1859. This was a pivotal event in the onset of the Civil War. Onion is a fictional character, but there are many real historical figures in the book. In addition to John Brown and his sons, Harriet Tubman, Col Lewis Washington and Frederick Douglass make appearances. And while McBride may have taken liberties in describing “The Railman” and his involvement, it is true that the first casualty of the raid on the arsenal was a free black man. What brings the history to life, though is the slave boy, Henry “Onion” Shackleford. A chance encounter with Brown in his father’s barbershop goes awry, and in the confusion, he is taken on by Brown, who mistakenly believes the child is a girl. Brown considers Onion a good luck charm, and he cares for the child. Onion continues to live as a girl for the next three years, sometimes being in the direct care of Brown, and sometimes being separated from him. Always, Henry is a marvelous observer of what is going on around him. He doesn’t always understand the ramifications of what he learns, but he does his best. He believes that Brown is a fanatic and possibly crazy, but he also recognizes Brown’s genuine belief that slavery is wrong and that it should be abolished. He follows Brown’s rag tag “army” helping where he can, but mostly trying to stay out of the way. Related by Onion, many of the events are just plain hilarious; a surprise in a book about slavery. I’ve seen reviews that compare McBride to Mark Twain, and I guess I see that here – an adventure tale that is about a serious event / issue, but that includes room for humor. I love McBride’s writing, but this seemed ungainly in places. I kept waiting for the “action” to happen, especially in the period when Henry was separated from Brown. And I thought some of the proselytizing that Brown engages in was unnecessary, though I admit that it helps to paint the picture of this MAN-WITH-A-CAUSE. I do not usually round up when I rate a book with a half-star, but in this case I will. There is more that is great about this book than not. Michael Boatman does a superb job voicing the audiobook. He is able to give unique voices to the many characters, and I particularly like the way he voiced John Brown and Henry. McBride uses vernacular dialect of the time, and listening to that is (in my humble opinion) a bit easier than reading it on the page.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    James McBride walks a fine line in the National Book Award-winning “The Good Lord Bird.” Treating tragic and painful historical events with humor is risky business. His subject is John Brown and the failed raid on the federal armory at Harper's Ferry in 1861. Brown was a zealot whose plan to free the slaves bordered on lunacy but McBride succeeds in humanizing him in a rollicking romp of a story that is both irreverent and historically astute. The narrator is Henry Shackleford, a twelve-year-old James McBride walks a fine line in the National Book Award-winning “The Good Lord Bird.” Treating tragic and painful historical events with humor is risky business. His subject is John Brown and the failed raid on the federal armory at Harper's Ferry in 1861. Brown was a zealot whose plan to free the slaves bordered on lunacy but McBride succeeds in humanizing him in a rollicking romp of a story that is both irreverent and historically astute. The narrator is Henry Shackleford, a twelve-year-old slave mistaken for a girl and swept up by “the Captain” to become his good-luck charm in the war against slavery. Henry/Henrietta is a wonderful character who doesn't understand John Brown's religious zeal and doesn't want any part of war but figures out how to survive both. “I couldn't make head nor tails of what he was saying, for I was to learn that Old John Brown could work the Lord into just about any aspect of his comings and goings in life, including using the privy. That's one reason I weren't a believer, having been raised by my Pa, who was a believer and a lunatic, and them things seemed to run together. But it weren't my place to argue with a white man, especially one who was my kidnapper, so I kept my lips closed.” Henry lives for a time in a whorehouse, falls in love twice, escapes the clutches of Frederick Douglass, meets Harriet Tubman and plays a role in “hiving” (recruiting) Negroes to the cause. He comes to know Brown as a “good, kind lunatic,” a man as unique as the rare bird of the title – a bird “so pretty that when man sees it, he says 'Good Lord.'” The portrayal of John Brown --- both hero and fool – is a remarkable achievement, as is this brilliantly entertaining amalgam of history and imagination.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Cathryn

    It’s on page 251 of James McBride novel The Good Lord Bird that a passage can found which speaks to the whole of this remarkable novel. The novel, at times irreverent but always historically accurate, tells the tale of Henry Shackleford, a slave boy in Kansas Territory. The fiery abolitionist John Brown arrives in the area in 1856, a year known as Bloody Kansas because of the fighting between anti- and pro-slavery forces. After Brown kills Henry’s master he takes Henry. A case of mistaken identit It’s on page 251 of James McBride novel The Good Lord Bird that a passage can found which speaks to the whole of this remarkable novel. The novel, at times irreverent but always historically accurate, tells the tale of Henry Shackleford, a slave boy in Kansas Territory. The fiery abolitionist John Brown arrives in the area in 1856, a year known as Bloody Kansas because of the fighting between anti- and pro-slavery forces. After Brown kills Henry’s master he takes Henry. A case of mistaken identity has Brown thinking Henry is a girl. To stay alive Henry must conceal his true identity. Here Harriet Tubman makes a cameo appearance. The result is arguably one of the novel’s most compelling scenes. Tubman takes Henry “Onion” Shackleford aside and tells him: “You done good to speak out,” she said. “To make some of these fellers stand up as men. But the wind of change got to blow in your heart, too,” she said softly. “A body can be whatever they want to be in this world. It ain’t no business of mine. Slavery done made a fool out of a lot of folks. Twisted ‘em all different kinds of ways. I seen it happen many a time in my day. I expect it’ll happen in all our tomorrows, too, for when you slave a person, you slave the one in front and the one behind.” The novel is about so much more than Brown’s failed raid on Harpers Ferry. Certainly McBride has done an incredible job recounting this episode as well as recreating Brown’s meeting with Tubman and even Frederick Douglas. Yet, this is not a historical novel in the traditional sense. At its core, The Good Lord Bird is a novel of identity. The passage is worth pausing over and re-reading. In this one paragraph McBride has given readers a sense of slavery’s legacy, race in America and what it means to be truly free.

  28. 5 out of 5

    LeAnne: GeezerMom

    Forgive my somewhat neutral rating for this lovely but very folksy book. It could be my present state of mind or my usual inability to be easily charmed, but nearing the half way mark, I had to call it quits. The premise of the story is one you've likely heard - a fictional confection that mirrors history and tosses in many cute one-liners a la Mark Twain, Homer Hickam, and Fred Chapell's Kirkman novels. I tired of the crazy, bible-thumping, hours-long-praying abolitionist John Brown. His schtic Forgive my somewhat neutral rating for this lovely but very folksy book. It could be my present state of mind or my usual inability to be easily charmed, but nearing the half way mark, I had to call it quits. The premise of the story is one you've likely heard - a fictional confection that mirrors history and tosses in many cute one-liners a la Mark Twain, Homer Hickam, and Fred Chapell's Kirkman novels. I tired of the crazy, bible-thumping, hours-long-praying abolitionist John Brown. His schtick never changed over 200 some pages. The cutesie antics of Onion, the young black slave who Brown mistakes for a little girl - and thus causes Henry to choose to remain Henrietta for years, but nicknamed Onion - wore thin. If you're up for historical fiction with a serious story and yet told in an entertaining fashion, be my guest. This is on many 9th grade required readings lists, and if you've got a teen in the house, I encourage you to put a copy in front of them. Good Lord, this was just too aw-shucks for me.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mocha Girl

    The Good Lord Bird by James McBride is an adventurous, humorous tale narrated by Henry Shackleford, a 10 year old slave, who through no fault of his own falls into abolitionist John Brown’s “army” in the Kansas Territory a few years before the infamous Harper’s Ferry Raid. The novel takes on a “Mark Twain-ish” type of flavor in that touches of irony, satire, and hyperbole are interwoven in the tale from the onset. For example, Henry is mistaken for a “Henrietta” and thrown into a dress and bonne The Good Lord Bird by James McBride is an adventurous, humorous tale narrated by Henry Shackleford, a 10 year old slave, who through no fault of his own falls into abolitionist John Brown’s “army” in the Kansas Territory a few years before the infamous Harper’s Ferry Raid. The novel takes on a “Mark Twain-ish” type of flavor in that touches of irony, satire, and hyperbole are interwoven in the tale from the onset. For example, Henry is mistaken for a “Henrietta” and thrown into a dress and bonnet; ceremoniously nicknamed Onion by Old Man Brown (from an act that literally made me gag), befriends the soldiers, and is declared a “good luck” charm for the group. I enjoy reading historical fiction, so this novel was a quirky spin on a tragic event as most people are probably already familiar with the eventual outcome of John Brown’s Raid. But the genius is how McBride via Onion allows the reader to examine the political climate (pro-slavery/abolitionist), social unrest, and the inhumanity of the era through the eyes of a mulatto/bi-racial, transgendered child -- basically one who straddles blackness and whiteness, male and female, slave and freeman, who is on the cusp of adulthood in a country on the verge of Civil War. Onion, a worldly, witty, resourceful kid, provides “eyewitness” accounts of the battles, personality flaws of the Old Man, his sons, and other key members of the motley crew as they made their way from from Kansas to Harper’s Ferry. Onion’s story was entertaining as it filled the “holes” and chronicled the series of critical mistakes and flawed assumptions that led to the infamous debacle. Onion also meets historical greats such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and “witnesses” their political views and relationship with John Brown; but it’s the unsung heros in the imagined characters like the slave Sibonia that tug at the heart. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction and the author.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bam

    #2016-usa-geography-challenge: DELAWARE The story of John Brown and his battle against slavery told through the remembrances of a young slave who Brown freed in Kansas during the Border Wars and who travelled with him for the next several years until the climatic events at Harpers Ferry. The slave, twelve-year-old Henry Shackleford, was mistaken by Brown for a girl and lived that lie through most of the story. Brown called 'her' the Onion and considered 'her' to be his good luck piece. 'Henrietta #2016-usa-geography-challenge: DELAWARE The story of John Brown and his battle against slavery told through the remembrances of a young slave who Brown freed in Kansas during the Border Wars and who travelled with him for the next several years until the climatic events at Harpers Ferry. The slave, twelve-year-old Henry Shackleford, was mistaken by Brown for a girl and lived that lie through most of the story. Brown called 'her' the Onion and considered 'her' to be his good luck piece. 'Henrietta' grew as a person through her experiences, even accepting God as her Lord, and said, "I come to the understanding that maybe what was on the inside was more important, and that your outer covering didn't count so much as folks thought it did, colored or white, man or woman." The story is both humorous and tragic. Through McBride's writing, the historical characters such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and John Brown are humanized and we see that Brown, through his seemingly insane acts, did actually set the wheels in motion that accomplished his goal of abolishing slavery.

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