My book club is partially to blame for my slower reading progress this fall. All of our selections have been quite lengthy, and I am not the type of person who can read more than one book at a time. One of those lengthy selections was James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. This historical fiction novel tells the story of Henry Shackleford, a young slave in the Kansas Territory in the late 1850s who finds himself in the company of Old John Brown – more famous to most of us for having led the raid on Harper’s Ferry in what is now West Virginia.
What’s interesting about Henry’s story is that when he first meets John Brown he is mistaken for a young girl (he’s 12 at the beginning and puberty hasn’t hit him yet). Realizing his life with John Brown will be significantly easier (and safe from seeing actual battle time) if he doesn’t correct anyone on their misconception of his gender, Henry spends the next few years as Henrietta “Onion” Shackleford, serving as friend, confidant, aide, and family to John Brown’s rowdy crew of anti-slavery warriors.
This book was well-written and I liked it, I just don’t know that I’d say you HAVE to go out and get yourself a copy. Since we all know how the Harper’s Ferry raid ended, it isn’t a spoiler to say that things don’t fare well for most of the characters featured in this book. It reminded me as well how little attention I paid to American history when I was in school, which is sad since I’m an American. I always preferred older history from overseas myself. I found myself Googling the raid and the major players to see how much of this story was fiction and how much was fact. Quite a few things are factual about this book so it definitely will appeal to any history buff. I liked Henry and quite enjoyed his point of view on life with John Brown, from the eye of a ‘rescued’ slave.