Review of “The Good Lord Bird” by James McBride

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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.

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Review of “The Round House” by Louise Erdrich

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Hello readers,

I finished The Round House last night, and postponed my review until I could process all of the emotions the book contains. The book is essentially about the many issues and injustices concerning the intersection of Tribal law and more general American law, but also addresses many other important topics such as the nature of love, friendship, forgiveness, justice, and vengeance. The narrator of the novel is a thirteen-year-old boy, Joe. To me, his relationship with his best friend Cappy is perhaps the most important and touching relationship described in the novel. The narrator’s relationship with his mother (who is the victim of a brutal rape) is also important because Joe is at the liminal age between fulfilling the roles of protector and protected. Joe is forced to consider some of the most basic moral questions. He has to chose between allowing his mother’s rapist to go free (because he can’t be prosecuted under tribal law), or to take justice into his own hands. This coming-of-age story is simultaneously simple and complex, and deeply profound.

This book was simple to read, but Erdrich’s prose is beautiful and resonated deeply with me. The reservation community described in the book is detailed and thorough; Erdrich’s reservation world is Faulknerian in its scope, and seems to be a microcosm of northern American Native American reservations (that’s a mouthful). Sometimes the complex family trees and relationships were difficult to keep track of, but I always appreciate a well-thought-out fictional world. It all seems so realistic. All characters in the novel were flawed but realistic, and I was interested in the lives of even the minor characters.

Overall, I loved the novel. The only other Erdrich novel I have read is Love Medicine, and this novel is better. I enjoyed them both, but The Round House is much more direct, much funnier, and much more suspenseful. I am an official fan of Erdrich. I’ve read two of her more popular novels and I plan on reading many more (specifically, Plague of Doves). The Round House won the National Book Award in 2012, and it undoubtedly deserved it.

Since The Round House was such a quick and easy read, I think it’s time to challenge myself. I decided to start Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. It’s the only book that I’ve ever started and not finished, and I plan to finish it this time around. There will be no Round 3.

Enjoy your week everyone!

– C