This is a post in my 50 Nifty series, in which I’m reading through 50 books that embody each of the 50 United States. Find out why I’m doing this and which books I’m reading when (so you can read along) by checking out my first 50Nifty post, or else browse all 50Nifty posts by clicking here!
The Good Lord Bird, James McBride
It took me a little bit to get into this novel, honestly, but once I did, I really enjoyed it. The story is the account of abolitionist John Brown’s escapades in the 1850s as told through the eyes of a (fictional) liberated slave boy who Brown thought was a girl for the several years they knew each other. Little Onion, as the narrator is called, accompanies Brown through Kansas, up to the northeast and Canada (meeting additional famous historical figures along the way), and eventually to famed Harpers Ferry. This book is an example of one of the reasons I’ve loved this project so far this year: I would probably never have picked it off the shelf, but I really liked it, and it did teach me a little something about U.S. history, even though some of the facts are (probably forever) blurred with fiction in my mind. (But to be honest, whose “facts” about U.S. history are not at least a little blurred anyway, right?)
McBride does a great job of creating full main characters, and when I looked up John Brown on Wikipedia after reading the book, I almost felt like I recognized him. McBride’s inventing Little Onion and bestowing upon “her” the innocence of a young girl was a great tactic in providing a humanizing sidekick to a character in whom some only see bloodthirstiness (Brown).
While an engaging story, I’m not sure Delaware was the best state for it on the original list, as none of the action takes place there. In fact, the only time I remember anything happening in Delaware is in the prologue, when the “diary” of Little Onion is found in an old church. If I’d made the 50Nifty list, I would have picked W. Virginia or Virginia for this one.