Insights from the Library’s Book Discussion Group: The Good Lord Bird

During the month of February, Laramie County Library’s Cheyenne Book Discussion Group read The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. A work of historical fiction featuring a Black main character and written by a Black author, the novel was chosen to coincide with Black History Month. The book follows the adventures of young Henry Shackleford, a Kansas slave boy who finds himself tangled up with abolitionist John Brown’s ragtag army during the turbulent period in American history known as Bleeding Kansas. Today, the events of Bleeding Kansas along with John Brown’s failed Harpers Ferry armory raid, and his subsequent execution, are recognized as precursors to the American Civil War.

Boldly humorous and a sly commentary on the ambivalence of human nature, McBride creates a quirky cast of characters as nuanced as the motives driving their actions. At its heart, this novel is an American coming of age tale featuring the not-always-so-lovable Henry who acquires the nickname Onion. For much of the novel, Onion’s main concern is himself, and his careless teenage apathy drives several important plot points.

The story is framed as a found slave narrative in which a church deacon has recorded an elderly Henry’s account of his time spent with John Brown. Black writers have participated in the American literary landscape since the establishment of the Colonies, but Black American literature really came to prominence with the slave narratives of Antebellum America. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave is one of the better-known works of this genre. We are introduced to Frederick Douglass during the course of the story, and a private meeting between Henry and Douglass is one of the most hilarious, if irreverent, scenes of the novel. Harriet Tubman also makes an appearance during a clandestine meeting in Canada where she and John Brown collaborated to recruit freed former slaves for participation in Brown’s planned Harpers Ferry raid and the uprising he believed would follow.

The Good Lord Bird is an absorbing tale that uses humor to engage its reader with an immensely difficult period in our country’s history. The topics examined in this novel continue to affect our society and this book exemplifies the power fiction has in sparking critical thought and meaningful conversation about uncomfortable subjects.

You can check out The Good Lord Bird today for you next book club meeting. The Good Lord Bird is just one of many powerful, illuminating, and incredible novels by Black authors available at Laramie County Library System; check out James McBride’s memoir, The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to his White Mother available both as a stand-alone title and in a book club kit. McBride has written other fiction and nonfiction works, several of which the library carries.

There are many slave narratives available for checkout from the library including: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Fredrick Douglass; Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853, from a Cotton Plantation near the Red River in Louisiana by Solomon Northrup; and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself by Harriet Jacobs.

Catch up on celebrated classics by authors such as Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston, and Ralph Ellison. Explore noteworthy contemporary authors like Marlon James, Jesmyn Ward, Colson Whitehead, and Eric Jerome Dickey. Is speculative fiction more your style? Check out these science fiction and fantasy writers: Octavia Butler, Rivers Solomon, Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin, and Andrea Hairston.

Interested in participating in our next Book Discussion Group? Visit our events calendar for dates and details.

Oranda Davis
Reference Librarian