Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Book Light ON "The Good Lord Bird"

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

Ahhh, the panic-stricken moment when you realize you haven't read the winner of one of the highest writing awards around... If you're wondering how quickly I put The Good Lord Bird on hold after its big win was announced, the answer is "within a minute." I had heard the buzz mounting around McBride's pre-Civil War masterpiece for months, so when I finally tasted the honey, I wondered why I had waited so long, until I had been persuaded by a little golden sticker, to enjoy this amazing treat.

In The Good Lord Bird, Henry Shackleford, a slave boy, tells the story of how he was suddenly freed (or stolen, as he first puts it) after a saloon brawl between his master and famous abolitionist John Brown, who mistakes the small, young boy for a girl and nicknames him...er, her Onion. Or at least it's kind of about that. Though he constantly announces that he meant to run away from John Brown, Onion's story is so tightly linked with that of his liberator that it gradually becomes more and more about the man who freed him. Brown, a genuine historical figure, firmly believed that the best and only way to do away with slavery was through battle, not through impassioned, empty words. Furthermore, as a very religious man, he believed that his violent insurrection against "the infernal institution" was ordained by a higher power. His battle plans were chaotic, as often his band of warriors randomly ran into rebels or federal agents and fighting broke out, but in Onion's narration, we see that Brown was undeniably an effective and charismatic leader of his men. His battles broke out as often and randomly as his prayers, which through Onion's descriptions offer giggles as well as a true sense of awe at Brown's commitment to his cause. John Brown of course planned and led the ill-fated run on Harper's Ferry, so following history to a beautifully researched T, we know there is no other way for this novel to end than Brown's inevitable death. Despite that and the grief-fraught background of the full-swing slavery south, The Good Lord Bird was never a depressing read. Quite the contrary: With Onion's constant good humor and Brown's determined attitude, it was a really fun read, and McBride ends this novel on such a glowing, resounding, uplifting note that I have thought about it for days and days after finishing it.

With years of research, a knack for the vernacular, and an ability to infuse a terribly painful time in human history with joy and humor, McBride has created a winner in so many senses of the word, a novel sure to become an enduring classic in the years to come. Keep your eyes open for the February 13, 2014 release of this title on audiobook—it's sure to offer an excellent aural experience.

-Abby, Reference Librarian