The Good Lord Bird

  • by James McBride
  • Narrated by Michael Boatman
  • 14 hrs and 34 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

National Book Award, Fiction, 2013
From the best-selling 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.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

If You Can't Say Anything Nice......

I was eager to read James McBride’s novel The Good Lord Bird. John Brown spent a portion of his life where I grew up and am very familiar with him.

Frankly, I am not sure if I enjoyed the book or not. I did struggle to finish this book. The main force to complete this had more to do with commitment and less to do with anticipation in the ending and enjoyment of the text. Yeah, parts of it are humorous but much of it is “bathroom” humor and “dirty old man” humor. I certainly didn’t find it witty or clever.

First, if enjoying this through Audible, Michael Boatman’s narration is odd to say the least. Overacted would best describe his reading. I found it hard to listen to and uncomfortable. It’s like when at a community theatrical production where there is that one guy that camps all his lines and monkey shines for the audience, putting everyone ill at ease. I felt that ill at ease feeling for the first third of the book till Boatman seemed to finally tired of doing it.

Told in first person, Henry, the protagonist, is a slave boy that possesses feminine qualities that allow him the luxury of assuming the alias of a female, Henrietta, when abolitionist John Brown mistakes his gender while in Kansas. John Brown considers him/her as a good luck charm and their lives intertwine through the next 17 years. Though this is fictional history I felt that large portions were fiction than was really necessary.
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- tooonce72

An Interesting Re-Telling of a Little Known Man

This is a quaint historical novel about the abolitionist John Brown, who's deeds and follies set the stage for the American Civil War. At first, I had a hard time listening to the chortling of "The Onion" a 10 to 12 year-old boy who was put into a dress and apparently lived as a woman for 17 years. After a couple of hours, I got into the voice...and the book is quite hysterical in some areas. I had to look it up to see if John Roberts was a real person or not, just because his escapades seemed so unrealistic. But, John Roberts did live, although I doubt the boy/girl nicknamed "The Onion" is a real person. But Onion is the perfect vehicle for telling this story. He is a child whom everyone treats as a girl, and for that reason, he could get into places and do things that a boy could not have been able to.

I enjoyed this book because it was funny and the voice actor was really quite good...after I got used to the sound of his voice. Audible makes a mistake when reading the introduction, because you think it is going to sound like that the whole way though. They have done that with other books that I did not appreciate.

Through the eyes of The Onion (so nicknamed because John Roberts hands the kid this rotten/petrified onion he kept as a good luck charm, but The Onion doesn't understand why he has been given this hideous rotten piece of crap masquerading as an onion, so he eats it. Then John Roberts always protects him, proclaiming that "She's my lucky charm" (I guess because s/he ate the onion instead of putting it in his/her pocket).

There are lots of funny scenes where the kid's true identity is almost unmasked, but while reading the bible on evening on a porch in Virginia, the boy realizes that a body, male or female, black or white is simply a shell and who one is inside and the outer shell doesn't make a bit of difference. I was touched by that, and it is true, IMO.

I don't like to reveal much of a book's plot points or the way it ends....but I found it very enjoyable and would recommend it to anyone who likes a farcical historical novel. I read about it on the NPR's website and went straight to Audible and bought it and I'm glad I did. It is witty, not too gory and I quite enjoyed it. It's a bit like Tom Robbins meets Edward P. Jones to write about a part of American Slavery and one man's feverish desire (driven by the Lord!) to bring an end to slavery. Oh...and we get to meet Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman in a way that we have never met them before.

All and all, a very enjoyable read. I can see it as a movie...maybe directed by the Cohen Brothers....who would be perfect for the tone of the book.
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- Melinda "I love literary fiction and I occasionally delve into non-fiction. I love books that are suspenseful and am really into well-told stories."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-20-2013
  • Publisher: Penguin Audio