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The Good Lord Bird | [James McBride]

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.
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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.

©2013 James McBride (P)2013 Penguin Audiobooks

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.0 (367 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Cliona River Forest, IL, United States 01-27-15
    Cliona River Forest, IL, United States 01-27-15 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
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    "Just excellent!"

    Fantastic performance by Michael Boatman. Wonderful, colorful story based on factual history but probably embelished.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Richmond Heights, MO, United States 03-23-14
    David Richmond Heights, MO, United States 03-23-14 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "interesting but heavy handed"
    Would you try another book from James McBride and/or Michael Boatman?

    maybe


    Would you recommend The Good Lord Bird to your friends? Why or why not?

    with reservations. I like historical fiction. In this book, I think the author went beyond the point of credibility. I think the author got caught up in trying to cover too many themes.


    What do you think the narrator could have done better?

    narrator was fine


    Do you think The Good Lord Bird needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

    no. The story is over.


    Any additional comments?

    I am not sure after reading this book what was real and what was created for the story.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Charlotte 02-12-14
    Charlotte 02-12-14
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    2
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    "Entertaining Performance, Wonderful Yarn"
    Where does The Good Lord Bird rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Top rung. I always enjoy Michael Boatman's performances. His voice is both entertaining and really captures the time, locales, dialects. I really liked his John Brown voice. I selected this book because I had heard about it since it won the National Book Award. Michael Boatman was a pleasant surprise.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Good Lord Bird?

    So many lines, like "no more than a hog know'd a holiday" reminded me of characters I have known, expressions that are both dated and down home, depending on where home is.


    What does Michael Boatman bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    His voice of the John Brown character was over the top, which is apropos for a character as extreme and passionate in his religious fervor as the "Old Man" Brown.


    Who was the most memorable character of The Good Lord Bird and why?

    The Onion. He's a slave child who says he lived a comfortable life until an encounter with John Brown got his father killed and him captured by Brown who was hell bent on freeing the slaves. On the road with Brown, he meets Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Jeb Stuart before surviving the raid at Harpers Ferry. The Onion is too flawed to be a hero and too savvy to be a victim. He's an undeserving coward who disrespects people and God, but whose brave spiritual awakening is the only point of the whole adventure. And yes, he dressed like a girl for several years just to save his "arse", and he had everyone mostly fooled.


    Any additional comments?

    Surely the details of the protagonist's experiences seem over the top and too fictionalized for a historical novel. Instead, regard this as an entertaining yarn with a historical foundation rather than an historical novel with a haughty air of authenticity. If you want your history uncut, go with Doris Kearns Goodwin. If you want to have fun with the brutal John Brown Raid, the unspeakable degradation of American slavery and the run-up to the bloody US Civil War, "The Good Lord Bird" is a good choice. Thanks, James McBride and Michael Boatman!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ingrid New York, NY, United States 01-18-14
    Ingrid New York, NY, United States 01-18-14 Member Since 2015

    Eclectic physical philosopher, carbon free commuter, fitness consultant, personal trainer, non-medical nutritional counselor, yoga teacher.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "If a movie comes out I'm glad I've read it."

    It was hard to follow in the beginning, but once I got into it, I enjoyed it and I'm glad I read the whole thing.
    I saw the movie in my head. It would be amazing to have the sensitivity of Ang Lee and crazy, intense, insanity of Quentin Tarrantino collaborate. (But maybe that's just me.)
    It was fun to read and it perked up my interest for history of that era (of which I'm shamefully ignorant.) The more you read, the more you realize how many wonderful books, & subjects there are to read about.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Martha East Hampton, NY, United States 10-27-13
    Martha East Hampton, NY, United States 10-27-13 Member Since 2009
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    "Did not enjoy the narration"

    The narration of this book was harsh and loud. The story was interesting enough and I did listen all the way through, but wouldn't recommend it because it just wasn't enjoyable. I have read other books by James McBride and liked them.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    wendy Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada 09-17-13
    wendy Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada 09-17-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Ugh"
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    Perhaps people who like a simple story with much repetition will enjoy this book more than I did.


    Has The Good Lord Bird turned you off from other books in this genre?

    no


    What do you think the narrator could have done better?

    The narrator was ok, but a bit "one note" for the main character.


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    I was disappointed in the repetitive storyline, endless descriptions of John Brown's wrinkles and hokum from the main character. To me, the main character lacked depth and the story was shallow. With such rich subject matter, I expected more heart. I did make myself listen all the way through, even though I was annoyed at times and found that I didn't look forward to listening.


    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cdiane 12-05-13
    Cdiane 12-05-13
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    "PULP FICTION"
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    No one can improve on the author,s portrayal of Brown, burning up before our eyes

    However with the absence of any other charcter development, the minstrel show humor,
    I cannot imagine who, how old, where educated, and what color the critics are. Literature's power to transport us does not rely on repetitious celebration of saying forbidden words and telling dirty stories.
    It is not even disgusting at last; it is just a waste of time. Where is the value ?


    Has The Good Lord Bird turned you off from other books in this genre?

    What genre do you think it is?


    Would you be willing to try another one of Michael Boatman’s performances?

    Yes. I won't notice, probably.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    Yes. The fine portrayal of John Brown


    3 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marge Keller, TX, United States 03-19-14
    Marge Keller, TX, United States 03-19-14 Member Since 2007
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    "I couldn't finish this book!"

    Like some other reviewers, I was exhausted by the narrator's loud, overacted voice. I had been looking forward to this book, as I thoroughly enjoyed McBride's memoir, The Color of Water. But this book is too long for a pretty shallow plot. I know that I will avoid books narrated by Michael Boatman in future.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Margaret United States 02-23-14
    Margaret United States 02-23-14 Member Since 2010
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    "Well-Performed but Un-Credible Minstrel Show"

    The production quality and narrator for this book were so good that they kept me going even when the book itself drove me nuts.

    Apparently, this book has been controversial because of the author's use of dialect imagined to be of the day. I found this to be one of the stronger, more inventive aspects of the book - the language is vivid and colorful, and did not find it racist as it applied to all characters, black and white.

    The book uses realism to defend its use of dialect in the narrative; however, the shallow, feckless treatment of slavery and prostitution is so white-washed that it becomes offensive. The book also stretches credulity many times: e.g., a drunk, 13-year old slave girl living in a whorehouse is never subjected to rough treatment by the white, frontiersmen customers (there are many situations like this - including a ridiculous encounter with Frederick Douglas.) The only way the teenaged narrator's perspective on is believable is if we were white readers in 1936 and we Prissy from Gone with the Wind had written a book.

    The book is also tiresomely repetitive in several spots - plot lines being repeated and repeated to make sure the reader gets it, some of the same expressions over-used until they become hackneyed; the book needed a tougher editor.

    The pity of it for me is that John Brown and the raid on Harper's Ferry and its place in the civil war is a subject of personal interest, but this book does little to illuminate potential aspects of Brown's character and trivializes the impact of his followers, including the African-Americans who followed him.

    The end of the book (after the raid), has some dignity denied throughout the rest of the book, and does try to do something redeemable with the central analogy around the now-extinct Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, but it's too little, too late.

    Most of the book is like watching Al Jolson, in blackface, sing "Mammy." An offensive and very outdated stereotype.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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