I have vowed to read more award winning books this year, or books that were critically acclaimed. In short, more “literature” than what I have read in the past. (Don’t worry, not giving up my popular fiction habit!) I looked at the Time Magazine must reads of 2013 (not the “official” title), and realized I had accidentally read almost everything on the list already. I had not read The Good Lord Bird, however. The Good Lord Bird by James McBride won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2013. The book centers around “Henrietta” or “Onion,” a negro slave who is “set free” by abolitionist John Brown. There’s just one slight problem – Onion is actually a boy, but…John Brown thinks he’s a she. So, Onion’s adventurous life as a freed female slave begins. The book begins with John Brown in the Kansas Territory, several years before the raid at Harper’s Ferry, which ultimately cost John Brown his life.
There are many misadventures for Onion, who really thinks only of getting away from John Brown in the beginning. John Brown’s son, Frederick, takes a shine to Onion, and sticks to him like a burr on a collie’s coat (sorry, the book wore off on me). Ole John Brown has a genuine affection for Onion, and calls her his good luck piece.
The book is funny, but somewhat irreverent to the plight the slaves faced prior to the Civil War. Halfway through, I was not very sure how I felt about the book. Completely through, I am still slightly unsure, but I do know I did like it (did not “love” it). If there’s an underlying moral or “read-between-the-lines story”, I did not necessarily walk away from it with a great big light bulb like “oh boy, that’s what he meant!” I feel like McBride really wrote this to keep history alive, in a fun and exciting manner. The story was interesting, and hopefully, it will cause people to want to learn a little more about John Brown than what we all know – just about the Harper’s Ferry Raid. I do not necessarily agree with the blurb on the book about “It’s also a moving exploration of one of the most colorful and forgotten characters in American history.” I do not truly believe John Brown is completely forgotten; he is a footnote in American History, but one that many people gloss over. Great book, I am definitely going to have to read the finalist books – because I really want to see what else won out over “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,” which was long listed. Because really…I’m not sure how this one did. And I feel really dumb about that now.