James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird is a National Book Award-winning novel about the exploits of abolitionist John Brown. The story is told from the perspective of Onion, a former slave who was forcefully emancipated by John Brown. Onion is one of the most interesting and entertaining narrators that I have encountered in literature. Onion’s narrative voice as memorable and unique as Holden Caulfield and Huck Finn. I read this book for class; many of my classmates seemed annoyed by Onion’s narrative voice, but I thought it was the most intriguing aspect of the entire novel.
Although the novel is about historical figures and events, it manages to tell the story in a way that feels entirely fresh and unique. The novel is hilarious, and Onion, as a former slave, has an interesting opinion of John Brown’s actions. I was expecting the novel to be more serious than it was. I suppose I thought it would be “high brow” and more “literary” since it won the National Book Award, but McBride told an important story in a way that was honest, original, and heart-wrenching. This novel made me feel things. It was also very entertaining and funny. It is obvious that McBride conducted a significant amount of research while writing this novel, and I learned so many new things while reading. I think it is particularly interesting that McBride chose to portray some historical figures honestly, even though it might make them look unsavory (who would have thought you could dislike Frederick Douglass?!) If any of you are interested in history (or just reading a good, fun novel), I would highly recommend this book.