The Good Lord Bird

The Good Lord Bird

4.2 40
by James McBride
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

Winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction
Soon to be a major motion picture starring Liev Schreiber and Jaden Smith
A Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Oprah Magazine Top 10 Book of the Year

“A magnificent new novel by the best-selling author James McBride.” –cover review of The New York Times Book Review

Overview

Winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction
Soon to be a major motion picture starring Liev Schreiber and Jaden Smith
A Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Oprah Magazine Top 10 Book of the Year

“A magnificent new novel by the best-selling author James McBride.” –cover review of The New York Times Book Review
“Outrageously entertaining.” –USA Today
“James McBride delivers another tour de force” –Essence
“So imaginative, you’ll race to the finish.” –NPR.org
“Wildly entertaining.”—4-star People lead review
"A boisterous, highly entertaining, altogether original novel.” – Washington Post
 
From the bestselling author of The Color of Water, Song Yet Sung, and Kill 'Em and Leave, a James Brown biography, 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.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Baz Dreisinger
…a magnificent…brilliant romp of a novel about [John] Brown…McBride—with the same flair for historical mining, musicality of voice and outsize characterization that made his memoir, The Color of Water, an instant classic—pulls off his portrait masterfully, like a modern-day Mark Twain: evoking sheer glee with every page…McBride sanctifies by humanizing; a larger-than-life warrior lands—warts, foibles, absurdities and all—right here on earth, where he's a far more accessible friend…In [McBride's] hands, John Brown is a wild and crazy old man—and more a hero than ever before.
Publishers Weekly
Musician and author McBride offers a fresh perspective on abolitionist firebrand John Brown in this novel disguised as the memoir of a slave boy who pretends to be a girl in order to escape pre–Civil War turmoil, only to find himself riding with John Brown’s retinue of rabble-rousers from Bloody Kansas to Harpers Ferry. “I was born a colored man and don’t you forget it,” reminisces Henry Shackleford in a manuscript discovered after a church fire in the 1960s. Speaking in his own savvy yet naïve voice, Henry recounts how, at age 10, his curly hair, soft features, and potato-sack dress cause him to be mistaken for a girl—a mistake he embraces for safety’s sake, even as he is reluctantly swept up by Brown’s violent, chaotic, determined, frustrated, and frustrating efforts to oppose slavery. A mix-up over the meaning of the word “trim” temporarily lands Henry/Henrietta in a brothel before he rejoins Brown and sons, who call him “Onion,” their good-luck charm. Onion eventually meets Frederick Douglass, a great man but a flawed human being, Harriet Tubman, silent, terrible, and strong. Even more memorable is the slave girl Sibonia, who courageously dies for freedom. At Harpers Ferry, Onion is given the futile task of rousting up slaves (“hiving bees”) to participate in the great armed insurrection that Brown envisions but never sees. Outrageously funny, sad, and consistently unflattering, McBride puts a human face on a nation at its most divided. Agent: Flip Brophy, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Aug.)
New York Times Book Review
A MAGNIFICANT NEW NOVEL by the best-selling author James McBride…a brilliant romp of a novel…McBride—with the same flair for historical mining, musicality of voice and outsize characterization that made his memoir 'The Color of Water,' an instant classic -- pulls off his portrait masterfully, like a modern-day Mark Twain: evoking sheer glee with every page.
Chicago Tribune
A SUPERBLY WRITTEN NOVEL… Through crackling prose and smart, wryly humorous dialogue, McBride tells his story through the eyes of the slave Henry Shackleford, who as a young boy is kidnapped by Brown during one of his Kansas raids. Wrapping the ugliness of slavery in a pitch-perfect adventure story is more than just a reimagining of an historic event. McBride, as he did in Song Yet Sung and Miracle at St. Anna, transcends history and makes it come alive.
San Francisco Chronicle
ABSORBING AND DARKLY FUNNY…at heart, the novel is an homage to a complex and fascinating American hero and a superbly inventive retelling of an American tale.
Seattle Times
James McBride made a gutsy decision when he chose to retell the rather tragic story of John Brown's failed slave rebellion at Harpers Ferry, Va., in 1859 as a historical romp with a gender-bending male slave as the great abolitionist's sidekick. The resulting new novel, The Good Lord Bird, is not only an irrepressibly fun read, but an iconoclastic exploration of a period in American history, the antebellum slave era, that we tend to handle with kid gloves.
NPR.org
It takes a daring writer to tackle a decidedly unflattering pre-Civil War story. Yet, in McBride's capable hands, the indelicate matter of a befuddled tween from the mid-19th century provides a new perspective on one of the most decisive periods in the history of this country.
From the Publisher
Winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction
Winner of the Morning News Tournament of Books

"A magnificent new novel by the best-selling author James McBride…a brilliant romp of a novel…McBride—with the same flair for historical mining, musicality of voice and outsize characterization that made his memoir, The Color of Water, an instant classic—pulls off his portrait masterfully, like a modern-day Mark Twain: evoking sheer glee with every page." —The New York Times Book Review

"You may know the story of John Brown's unsuccessful raid on Harpers Ferry, but author James McBride's retelling of the events leading up to it is so imaginative, you'll race to the finish."—NPR

"A boisterous, highly entertaining, altogether original novel by James McBride...There is something deeply humane in this [story], something akin to the work of Homer or Mark Twain. McBride’s Little Onion — a sparkling narrator who is sure to win new life on the silver screen — leads us through history’s dark corridors, suggesting that “truths” may actually lie elsewhere." —The Washington Post
 
“Wildly entertaining…From the author of The Color of Water, a rollicking saga about one of America’s earliest abolitionists.” —People (4 star review; “People Pick”)

"McBride delivers another tour de force...A fascinating mix of history and mystery."—Essence

"A story that's difficult to put down."—Ebony

“Outrageously entertaining…The Good Lord Bird rockets toward its inevitable and, yes, knee-slapping conclusion. Never has mayhem been this much of a humdinger.” —USA Today

“An impressively deep comedy...It’s a view of the antebellum world refreshingly free of pieties, and full of questions about the capacity of human beings to act on their sense of right and wrong, about why the world is the way it is, and what any one of us can do to make it better. It’s the rare comic novel that delves so deep.” —Salon
 
“Both breezy and sharp, a rare combination outside of Twain. You should absolutely read it.” —Kathryn Schulz, New York Magazine

"A superbly written novel....McBride...transcends history and makes it come alive."—The Chicago Tribune

"Absorbing and darkly funny."—The San Francisco Chronicle

"An irrepressibly fun read."—The Seattle Times
 
“As in Huck Finn, this novel comes in through the back door of history, telling you something you might not know by putting you in the heat of the action…It is a compelling story and an important one, told in a voice that is fresh and apolitical.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
“Exhilarating… McBride makes what could be a confusing tale clear and creates suspense even in a story whose end is well-known. Beneath the humor lies sympathy for Brown and all those whose lives were caught up with his.” —Columbus Dispatch

"Outrageously funny, sad... McBride puts a human face on a nation at its most divided."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 
“A sizzling historical novel that is an evocative escapade and a provocative pastiche of Larry McMurtry’s salty western satires and William Styron’s seminal insurrection masterpiece, The Confessions of Nat Turner.” —Booklist (starred review)

“[The Good Lord Bird] recalls the broad humor and irony of Mark Twain.” —Bloomberg News

"The Good Lord Bird is just so brilliant. It had everything I want in a novel and left me feeling both transported and transformed—the last book I remember loving so thoroughly was The Orphan Master’s Son."—John Green (in judging the Morning News Tournament of Books)

 
"[McBride's] effervescent young narrator is pitch-perfect and wholly original."—Geraldine Brooks (in judging the Morning News Tournament of Books)
 
"For years we have waited for a response to William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner. So long, in fact, that we forgot we were waiting. The Good Lord Bird sings like a bird set free, with a voice that ought to join Huck Finn, the narrators of Toni Morrison’s Jazz, and Junot Díaz’s Oscar Wao as a voice which is here to tell us who we are in music so lovely we almost forget it was born in terrible pain. It’s an alarmingly beautiful book."—John Freeman (in judging the Morning News Tournament of Books)

 

 

Library Journal
In the turbulent times just before the Civil War, abolitionist John Brown visits the Kansas Territories to free the slaves. In the midst of a gunfight between slave owner Dutch Henry and Brown, a young slave named Henry Shackleford watches his father die. Now freed and under the protection of the wily abolitionist, who mistakes the ten-year-old boy dressed in a potato sack for a girl, Henry maintains this feminine guise as he rides with Brown and his band of volunteers. After becoming separated during a skirmish, Henry finds himself in a Missouri brothel only to rejoin Brown’s ragtag group two years later. Brown takes Henry on a fundraising tour back East, meeting with other abolitionists including Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. Despite John Brown’s reputation for violence, Henry discovers an old man whose intense passion for the abolitionist cause tends to overrule common sense, proving disastrously detrimental as they travel to Harpers Ferry in 1859.

Verdict With its colorful characters caught in tragic situations, McBride's (The Color of Water; Song Yet Sung; Miracle at St. Anna) faux memoir, narrated by Henry, presents a larger-than-life slice of an icon of American history with the author's own particular twist. [See Prepub Alert, 2/25/13.]—Joy Gunn, Paseo Verde Lib., Henderson, NV
(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
In McBride's version of events, John Brown's body doesn't lie a-mouldering in the grave--he's alive and vigorous and fanatical and doomed, so one could say his soul does indeed go marching on. The unlikely narrator of the events leading up to Brown's quixotic raid at Harper's Ferry is Henry Shackleford, aka Little Onion, whose father is killed when Brown comes in to liberate some slaves. Brown whisks the 12-year-old away thinking he's a girl, and Onion keeps up the disguise for the next few years. This fluidity of gender identity allows Onion a certain leeway in his life, for example, he gets taken in by Pie, a beautiful prostitute, where he witnesses some activity almost more unseemly than a 12-year-old can stand. The interlude with Pie occurs during a two-year period where Brown disappears from Onion's life, but they're reunited a few months before the debacle at Harper's Ferry. In that time, Brown visits Frederick Douglass, and, in the most implausible scene in the novel, Douglass gets tight and chases after the nubile Onion. The stakes are raised as Brown approaches October 1859, for even Onion recognizes the futility of the raid, where Brown expects hundreds of slaves to rise in revolt and gets only a handful. Onion notes that Brown's fanaticism increasingly approaches "lunacy" as the time for the raid gets closer, and Brown never loses that obsessive glint in his eye that tells him he's doing the Lord's work. At the end, Onion reasserts his identity as a male and escapes just before Brown's execution. McBride presents an interesting experiment in point of view here, as all of Brown's activities are filtered through the eyes of a young adolescent who wavers between innocence and cynicism.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781594486340
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/20/2013
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
175,554
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.60(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction
Winner of the Morning News Tournament of Books

Praise for The Good Lord Bird

"A magnificent new novel by the best-selling author James McBride…a brilliant romp of a novel…McBride—with the same flair for historical mining, musicality of voice and outsize characterization that made his memoir, The Color of Water, an instant classic—pulls off his portrait masterfully, like a modern-day Mark Twain: evoking sheer glee with every page." —The New York Times Book Review

"You may know the story of John Brown's unsuccessful raid on Harpers Ferry, but author James McBride's retelling of the events leading up to it is so imaginative, you'll race to the finish."—NPR

"A boisterous, highly entertaining, altogether original novel by James McBride...There is something deeply humane in this [story], something akin to the work of Homer or Mark Twain. McBride’s Little Onion — a sparkling narrator who is sure to win new life on the silver screen — leads us through history’s dark corridors, suggesting that “truths” may actually lie elsewhere." —The Washington Post
 
“Wildly entertaining…From the author of The Color of Water, a rollicking saga about one of America’s earliest abolitionists.” —People (4 star review; “People Pick”)

"McBride delivers another tour de force...A fascinating mix of history and mystery."—Essence

"A story that's difficult to put down."—Ebony

“Outrageously entertaining…The Good Lord Bird rockets toward its inevitable and, yes, knee-slapping conclusion. Never has mayhem been this much of a humdinger.” —USA Today

“An impressively deep comedy...It’s a view of the antebellum world refreshingly free of pieties, and full of questions about the capacity of human beings to act on their sense of right and wrong, about why the world is the way it is, and what any one of us can do to make it better. It’s the rare comic novel that delves so deep.” —Salon
 
“Both breezy and sharp, a rare combination outside of Twain. You should absolutely read it.” —Kathryn Schulz, New York Magazine

"A superbly written novel....McBride...transcends history and makes it come alive."—The Chicago Tribune

"Absorbing and darkly funny."—The San Francisco Chronicle

"An irrepressibly fun read."—The Seattle Times
 
“As in Huck Finn, this novel comes in through the back door of history, telling you something you might not know by putting you in the heat of the action…It is a compelling story and an important one, told in a voice that is fresh and apolitical.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
“Exhilarating… McBride makes what could be a confusing tale clear and creates suspense even in a story whose end is well-known. Beneath the humor lies sympathy for Brown and all those whose lives were caught up with his.” —Columbus Dispatch

"Outrageously funny, sad... McBride puts a human face on a nation at its most divided."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 
“A sizzling historical novel that is an evocative escapade and a provocative pastiche of Larry McMurtry’s salty western satires and William Styron’s seminal insurrection masterpiece, The Confessions of Nat Turner.” —Booklist (starred review)

“[The Good Lord Bird] recalls the broad humor and irony of Mark Twain.” —Bloomberg News
 

"The Good Lord Bird is just so brilliant. It had everything I want in a novel and left me feeling both transported and transformed—the last book I remember loving so thoroughly was The Orphan Master’s Son."—John Green (in judging the Morning News Tournament of Books)

 
"[McBride's] effervescent young narrator is pitch-perfect and wholly original."—Geraldine Brooks (in judging the Morning News Tournament of Books)
 
"For years we have waited for a response to William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner. So long, in fact, that we forgot we were waiting. The Good Lord Bird sings like a bird set free, with a voice that ought to join Huck Finn, the narrators of Toni Morrison’s Jazz, and Junot Díaz’s Oscar Wao as a voice which is here to tell us who we are in music so lovely we almost forget it was born in terrible pain. It’s an alarmingly beautiful book."—John Freeman (in judging the Morning News Tournament of Books)

 

Meet the Author


James McBride is an accomplished musician and author of the American classic The Color of Water and the bestsellers Song Yet Sung and Miracle at St. Anna, which was turned into a film by Spike Lee. A graduate of Oberlin College, he has a master’s in journalism from Columbia University. McBride holds several honorary doctorates and is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Date of Birth:
1957
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
Education:
Oberlin Conservatory of Music; M.A., Columbia University School of Journalism

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

The Good Lord Bird: A Novel 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. I was fortunate enough to snag an advanced copy and was hooked by page one! James McBride has a wonderful voice for this narrative. I have never read a historical novel so fresh and just downright interesting. The gender conflicts woven into the story gives a historical era a slight modern twist but it's still believable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I started laughing from the moment I opened the book and started reading. Even though the events depicted (centering around John Brown and his unsuccessful raid on Harpers Ferry) brought hardship and pain to the various characters, the interchanges between the narrator, a young black boy thrust into an undesired role, and those he encounters on his travels (some of whom were actual historical figures, such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass) led to unexpectedly offbeat predicaments. I think author McBride found a unique voice to present his tale, and it worked wonders for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the book from start to finish, had a few laughs while reading it, and learned some details about the attack on Harpers Ferry in the process.
MahMah More than 1 year ago
--And the person I'd like to recommend for the job is none other than the crazy 2000 yr. old producer/director of stage and film, Mr. Mel Brooks, whose bizarre sense of life and humanity is, in my mind, the only person capable of doing total justice to author McBride's equally bizarre, ironic, FANTASTICALLY FUNNY book! Most of us, I believe, were introduced to the odd-ball, rather scary, John Brown -- intransigent anti-slavery abolitionist of pre-civil war times -- by high school history teachers, but not with any compassion or warmth! When I was done reading McBride's brilliantly humorous version of the bewildering Brown and the equally strange people he consorted with during those long ago times, I almost wished he was still alive so I could step up shake his grubby, ugly old hand!
CatheMarie More than 1 year ago
A complex, compelling story about Little Onion, a slave, and John Brown, the abolitionist. John Brown "frees" Little Onion, a boy he mistakes for a girl after killing his owner and the boy's father. We are drawn into the fray as John Brown or "The Old Man" as Little Onion calls him attempts to rally his fellow citizens to take up the cause to free the slaves. John Brown knows and is known by people famous and infamous of his age. However, he is his own worst enemy when it comes to his organizational skills. James McBride makes these characters real and fictional so believable. It's like we too are traveling through Missouri, Kansas, Canada and the eastern seaboard. We too get to meet Harriet Tubman in Canada and Frederick Douglass with his two wives. An interesting and engrossing read!
scottydback More than 1 year ago
Loved this book! Felt a bit like Mark Twain reincarnated as I chuckled, bristled, sneered, cheered, and got downright angry at times.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good book. Very well written. Fun to read and good pace.. Also, interesting take on black history and historical events..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel fictionalizes the rise and last stand of abolitionist John Brown through the eyes of youth Henry Shackleford. Enslaved in Kansas when Brown comes through on a mission to recruit new converts to fight the Pro-Slavery faction, Henry is sucked into Brown's mighty orbit through a series of tragi-comic events. Henry's small proportions and delicate features induce Brown to mistake him for a girl. Henry thus spends the next couple years of his life as Henrietta, affectionately dubbed "the Onion," an unwilling member of Brown's ragtag army and unwitting witness to events of historic import. Driving this lively, well-paced narrative is the distinct voice of its hero/ine. Abundantly rich in metaphor and amply given to the hyperbolic, the Onion's voice is vibrant and beautifully textured. The humor, aside from existing for its own sake, deploys the satirical nature of the novel, and in this, at times, comes off as heavy-handed. In the main, the portrayal of Frederick Douglass as a closet drunk and bigamist coward looking for a mulatto piece on the side is brutal. The novel clearly holds Brown's sold-out warmongering on behalf of freedom for his black brothers and sisters above Douglass' "silk shirt" sermonizing, but it posits an unnecessary binary in doing so. The contrast seems out of place in a narrative that venerates the Brown character for understanding that each soul has its own purpose in life and must be about its own business. That notwithstanding, even the Douglass bit strikes genuinely funny moments. The abundant humor of the novel does nothing to lessen the narrative's quite serious contemplations of race, identity, and masculinity, friendship, sonship, duty and courage, and the inescapability of life's messy, meaningful complications. Along with the obvious appreciation of Brown, there is a pervasive reverence for women in the novel. In particular, there is 'General' Harriet Tubman dispensing wisdom and displaying a self-possession in leadership that tames even the bombastic Brown. Enslaved sisters Sibonia and Libby are drawn to purely masterful effect. And Brown's daughter, Annie, is presented as a perfect combination of sweetness and strength. I also find that the novel, whether authorially intended to do so or not, pays great homage to two American classics, the short story "The Scarlet Ibis" by James Hurst and Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, particularly in the symbiosis between the Onion and Fred. The resonances are in fact quite remarkable. The Good Lord Bird manages to be great fun, deeply thoughtful, damned heartbreaking, and belligerently hopeful to the last. Definitely worthy of a place on a reader's shelf, and for teachers of American lit, definitely worthy of a spot on the syllabus.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
footdoc81 More than 1 year ago
historical novel but the protagonist and all the supporting characters are fascinating. A great read if you are a history buff
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Basil More than 1 year ago
Takes Over Where Twain Left Off... "The Good Lord Bird" is a wonderful all-American story about Henry "the Onion" Shackleford, a diminutive octoroon disguised as a petite young Negro girl who encamps with abolitionist John Brown and his ragged band, the "Pottawatomie Rifles." Bloody Kansas and Harpers Ferry are among the tormented stops in this rousing novel of Antebellum America. While the theme is certainly serious, the tone is always comic, bright and light for the engaged reader. McBride's characters--and there are many of them--are beautifully drawn and enduringly memorable; like Mark Twain's Huck Finn, they leap out of the page at you. The first person dialogue is classic Americana in the Twain tradition. Take the boy's description of his master: "Dutch Henry Sherman was a German feller, big in feature, standing six hands tall without his boots. He had hands the size of meat cleavers, lips the color of veal, and a rumbling voice. He owned me, Pa, my aunt and uncle, and several Indian squaws, which he used for privilege." No wonder McBride won the National Book Award for "The Good Lord Bird."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is symbolic of today and the struggles within the black and white communities. It was fascinating to read and understand a time that is not documented in history books. Great read.u
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Christmas book for my brother.He's looking forward to reading it next.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago