The Good Lord Bird

McBride, James

Book - 2013
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
The Good Lord Bird
"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." -- Publisher's description. Henry is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1857. When his master has a violent argument with John Brown, the legendary abolitionist, Henry is forced to leave town with Brown, who believes he is a girl. Concealing his true identity as he struggles to stay alive, Henry is swept up in the events at the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. Fleeing his violent master at the side of abolitionist John Brown at the height of the slavery debate in mid-nineteenth-century Kansas Territory, Henry pretends to be a girl to hide his identity throughout the raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859.

Publisher: New York, New York :, Riverhead Books,, 2013.
ISBN: 1594486344
Characteristics: 417 pages ;,24 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Mar 20, 2015
  • becker rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

I wasn't sure how I felt about this book in the beginning. It seemed wordy and a bit repetitive, but I developed a respect for the story and the author as the book continued. This was a crazy and incredible time in history and the legendary John Brown was quite a character. I think the author did a good job capturing the essence of the time and the man. The lingo was very well done.

Nov 29, 2014
  • euterpe2 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

The Good Lord Bird is a deliciously subversive perspective on the story of abolitionist John Brown, in the tradition of Mark Twain and yes, filmmaker Mel Brooks! This book is no respecter of halos, even when attached to iconic figures like Frederick Douglass (who sports a 'busted' halo in McBride's retelling). John Brown is an obsessive renegade and bible quoting fundamentalist, yet there is an otherworldly honesty in his red hot mission to destroy slavery. Mcbride has created real, flawed human beings, not caricatures. The result is a very funny, very moving story with a touch of the sublime.

Nov 06, 2014
  • lukasevansherman rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

"He was like everybody in war. He believed God was on his side. Everybody got God on their side in war. Problem is, God ain't telling nobody who He's for."
James McBride's National Book Award winning novel tells the story of John Brown and his raid on Harpers Ferry from the perspective of a young, freed slave who is mistaken for a girl and spends much of the novel dressed as one. Told from his perspective, it is simultaneously comic and brutal, with echoes of "Huck Finn" and "Little Big Man." McBride masterfully conjures up the violent past while touching on issues (race, identity, fanaticism) that are still with us. Fredrick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Jeb Stuart all make appearances. Two other novels about Brown worth checking out: Russell Banks's "Cloudsplitter" and G.M. Fraser's "Flashman and the Angel of Light."

Oct 28, 2014
  • LPL_ShirleyB rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

2014 Inaugural Ross and Marianna Beach Author Series selection. See the NY Times review. Be patient with the narrator's (freed slave) dialect. It is a worthy award winner! Similar historical fiction: Not without laughter by Langston Hughes and Madam: a novel of New Orleans by Cari Lynn and Kellie Martin.

Oct 21, 2014

James McBride is such a masterful writer. The Good Lord Bird had me laughing out loud. Who would have thought it would take a cross-dressing adolescent negro slave to unstarch the mythology of an outrageously obsessive John Brown and make him a memorable and a uniquely American hero. This book was both entertaining and educational. Loved it!

Jul 21, 2014

While waiting to read this I will mention that there is a non-fiction book called A Voice from Harper's Ferry by Osborne P. Anderson "a Black revolutionary who was there" which is very enlightening also.

Jun 08, 2014
  • Laphroaig rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

I like to think that ivory-billed woodpeckers are still out there, tearing down the rotten and corrupt in order to nourish and sustain healthy new growth.

Jun 04, 2014
  • JCLMELODYK rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Nothing funnier than a cross-dressing slave boy riding the circuit with crazy ole John Brown. Offensive, hilarious, violent and sad, James McBride fills the Kansas Territory with characters straight out of a Mel Brooks movie and then throws in a dash of Quentin Tarantino for good measure. How McBride managed to weave Harriet Tubman in to the buffoonery without offending the reader is beyond me. I highly recommend!

Feb 24, 2014
  • GummiGirl rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Unexpectedly funny, given that it's mostly true to the history of the events. I'll definitely want to read McBride's other books now.

Jan 02, 2014

As with most fiction, I was initally bored by the series of made-up vignettes (read: movie script scenes) that make up the first half of the book. But McBride is an accomplished writer, and the story told in this historical fiction eventually supported his worthy observations on race relations and personhood. I warmed to the tale featuring the disguised slave boy Onion's involvement with the zealot abolitionist John Brown, to the extent that I may now seek out what I'd normally prefer: a non-fiction account of Brown and his quixotic raid on Harper's Ferry.

By the way, it gives away nothing to note that the Good Lord Bird is not a lord, but a bird.

View All Comments


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add a Notice

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Find it at CLEVNET