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The Good Lord Bird

The Good Lord BirdThe Good Lord Bird by James McBride
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It was with much anticipation that I began this award-winning novel. However, it did not satisfy me.

This is the story of Onion, a young slave liberated by John Brown in Kansas. Brown thinks Onion is a girl and not a boy, so for three years Onion lives as a girl as he is carried along by Brown and his army, eventually being a witness of the revolt at Harper's Ferry. (I give away no crucial plot points below, but if there are things you don't want to know, quit reading).

The conceit is very exciting, as is the voice of Onion in which the novel is narrated. But there are serious flaws that dissatisfied me.

First, I think that it could have used some more editing. There were repetitive statements throughout the book. The story dragged in places in ways that were unnecessary. I don't think it needed to put its main character at all these historical moments involving John Brown; it would have been zippier and more enjoyable to have simply brought Onion into the story of John Brown near the end.

Second, there was much about it that was unconvincing, even giving the suspension of disbelief. Onion keeps talking about finding a way to get away from Brown and escape to freedom, and yet he never seriously attempts this, even when in Canada. Also at the very end, Onion intuits that Brown has always known he's a boy. If so, then what was the charade all about? That simply seemed ridiculous to me.

I think this could have been a much better book than it was.

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