When legendary abolitionist John Brown frees Henry Shackleford – whom he mistakes for a girl – Henry conceals his true identity as he struggles to stay alive on a rousing adventure that lands them at the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859.
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.