Our narrator is the sort of fellow with whom you’d happily get soused at a hole-in-the-wall tavern, and even accompany from Kansas along the Pottawatomie Creek, where Brown’s men kill five pro-slavery settlers, to Missouri, where Henry settles into life at a whorehouse … In disguising his light-skinned narrator as a girl, McBride taps into both the long legacy of racial passing and the race- and gender-bending tradition of American slave narratives, evoking one from 1860... in order to fashion a rich metaphor for racial identity … McBride sanctifies by humanizing; a larger-than-life warrior lands — warts, foibles, absurdities and all — right here on earth, where he’s a far more accessible friend.
… a boisterous, highly entertaining, altogether original novel … Mistake follows mistake in this rambunctious comedy of errors, and Old Man Brown and his hard-riding horde head straight to the Kansas flatlands to rescue 11-year-old Henrietta from slavery … There is something deeply humane in this, something akin to the work of Homer or Mark Twain. We tend to forget that history is all too often made by fallible beings who make mistakes, calculate badly, love blindly and want too much. We forget, too, that real life presents utterly human heroes with far more contingency than history books can offer.
… [McBride’s] hugely enjoyable African-American variation on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn … The Good Lord Bird careens through a series of often hilarious exploits and encounters … It’s a view of the antebellum world refreshingly free of pieties, and full of questions about the capacity of human beings to act on their sense of right and wrong, about why the world is the way it is, and what any one of us can do to make it better. It’s the rare comic novel that delves so deep.
Henry Shackelford is McBride's protagonist, a faux-naif square in the tradition of Huckleberry Finn … The portrait of ‘the real’ John Brown is indelible...John Brown was a thunderously single-minded abolitionist, a visionary and a one-man show, and throughout The Good Lord Bird, one can see why McBride admires him. We witness Brown's suicidal blindness, his long-windedness and his radiance … The Good Lord Bird doesn't stand on ceremony, and McBride never delivers the sanctimonious speeches that could appliance such a tale
On almost every page, there's something to wince at or cry about — the barbarity was extreme on both sides of the slavery jihad in what are now Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and West Virginia — but also something that will make you laugh out loud … McBride's secret weapon in this act of fictional alchemy is Henry ‘Onion’ Shackleford, a light-skinned young slave who is freed by Brown only to get swept up — at first involuntarily, and later with varying degrees of consent — in a series of battles that finally ends, in a great commingling of comedy and tragedy, with Brown's famous assault on the armory at Harpers Ferry in what is now West Virginia.
Through crackling prose and smart, wryly humorous dialogue, McBride tells his story through the eyes of the slave Henry Shackleford, who as a young boy is kidnapped by Brown during one of his Kansas raids … The Good Lord Bird is a tribute to small but accumulating steps that eventually led to a stampede toward justice and equality. Wrapping the ugliness of slavery in a pitch-perfect adventure story is more than just a reimagining of an historic event. McBride...transcends history and makes it come alive.
Putting Little Onion in a dress is a stroke of satirical genius. But it soon becomes apparent that McBride's mission here is less satire than an adventure story with lots of broad and bawdy comedy … In The Good Lord Bird, the America of legalized slavery is a land of such moral vacancy even the country's heroes are devoid of decency. The novel's slaves have all learned to lie so much to white people that lying becomes part of their nature … McBride is a clever writer, and it's fun to ride along with him — as long as you don't mind running roughshod over history while doing so.
McBride adds a darkly comic plot twist that is admittedly hard to wrap your head around: What if Old John Brown spent his last four years tending a prepubescent transvestite who became the only one to escape the raid unscathed? This is a story that popular culture doesn't often visit, and it takes a daring writer to tackle a decidedly unflattering pre-Civil War story. Yet, in McBride's capable hands, the indelicate matter of a befuddled tween from the mid-19th century provides a new perspective on one of the most decisive periods in the history of this country.
As any child might be, Onion is ambivalent about his liberation; he's gone from three meals a day and a warm bed to the occasional biscuit and the company of ruffians, particularly the Bible-spewing Brown … As in Huck Finn, this novel comes in through the back door of history, telling you something you might not know by putting you in the heat of the action, which is in the shoes of a kid who disguises himself in order to survive an ugly and brutal time in our nation's history. It is a compelling story and an important one, told in a voice that is fresh and apolitical.
McBride also deftly introduces the possibility that for many slaves, freedom was a complex choice. Some of the slaves believe Brown ‘ain’t right in his mind’ for viewing blacks and whites as equals...Of course, McBride makes no effort to glorify slavery, and instead The Good Lord Bird depicts the abuse and degradation of slaves at the hands of both whites and freed blacks … I recommend The Good Lord Bird to anyone looking to explore one of America’s most significant turning points through a novel that offers both entertainment and historical background. McBride skillfully uses wit and suspense to spin a compelling tale that also educates the reader about the early abolitionist movement and those it affected.
McBride offers a fresh perspective on abolitionist firebrand John Brown in this novel disguised as the memoir of a slave boy who pretends to be a girl in order to escape pre–Civil War turmoil, only to find himself riding with John Brown’s retinue of rabble-rousers from Bloody Kansas to Harpers Ferry … Outrageously funny, sad, and consistently unflattering, McBride puts a human face on a nation at its most divided.
In McBride’s version of events, John Brown’s body doesn’t lie a-mouldering in the grave—he’s alive and vigorous and fanatical and doomed, so one could say his soul does indeed go marching on … McBride presents an interesting experiment in point of view here, as all of Brown’s activities are filtered through the eyes of a young adolescent who wavers between innocence and cynicism.