The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
(Riverhead Books, 2013, 417 pages)
The Good Lord Bird won the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction. The book revolves around the events leading up to the raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859. Young Henry was taken along with John Brown after Henry’s father ended up dying in an altercation that took place in Kansas. Brown mistakenly identified Henry as a girl, believing her name was Henrietta. Henry makes the decision to keep up this charade and soon acquires the nickname of “The Onion.”
The novel is presented as Onion’s transcribed retelling of how he came to be involved with John Brown and Harper’s Ferry. Through Onion’s experiences we see Brown’s vision of a slave uprising brought to life, even though he keeps most of his plan to himself (and while his followers hate being in the dark about things, they still stick with him). Onion’s decision to continue living life as a girl offers him the opportunity to experience things in a way he wouldn’t be able to if others saw him as male.
Trying to describe the book doesn’t really do it justice. It’s an entertaining read about a historical event that helped lead to the Civil War. However, very little of the book deals with Harper’s Ferry specifically, most of it focuses on Onion and the experiences he had leading up to the raid. It took a bit for me to get used to the language because it reads as the way Onion would talk, but once I got into the story I was really immersed in it.