The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

Title: The Good Lord Bird
Author: James McBride
Genre: Fiction / historical fiction

Rating: 4 / 5

Goodreads | Powell’s


Some parts of this “whopper” about John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry dragged for me, but overall it was a satisfying read.


I don’t love child narrators. I understand the literary reasons behind having child narrators, but I just plain don’t enjoy them. Unless I’m reading a young adult book (and sometimes even then), rarely does a child or teen narrator work for me. Of course, there are exceptions–the last book I read with a child narrator I enjoyed was Long Division; the main character was just so likeable and relateable for me. Not so in the case of this book–I liked it despite the child narrator, which I admit really grated on me at times. And as I said, there were some parts (mostly “Part II” of the book) that just seemed to inch along. It’s also been compared to the works of both Mark Twain and Quentin Tarantino, neither of whom I am especially fond (and now I’m feeling guilty for lumping those two together–I’m pretty ambivalent about Twain, but I really dislike Tarantino). Yet it still managed to get a good rating.


So what did I like about it? I pretty much loved James McBride’s John Brown. That’s where the book really came to life for me. I was interested in all the characters besides Onion, basically: Pie, Bob, Sibonia, the men in John Brown’s army, even the Reverend. I wish we’d got more on their stories and motivations than we did. And although the book didn’t always work for me on the narrative story-telling level, I did enjoy the other layers of the story–the examination of race, religion & conviction, history & legacy, satire, the symbolism throughout, living your values, and I especially liked the theme of appearance vs reality; the book definitely gave me a lot to think about. I think it would be a fun book to teach or to learn about in an academic setting.


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