The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
Henry, a young boy of ten, is wearing a potato sack dress when he is “saved” from slavery by Old John Brown. Henry didn’t much want to be saved, but he’s kind of stuck with the Old Man for the moment. But one moment becomes a day, becomes a month, becomes years. And all that time John Brown, and his army, believe Henry, or Henrietta, is a girl. Henry was going to correct the mistake but being a girl keeps him out of the fighting and that is just fine by him. He knows he isn’t going to be going anywhere any time soon since he ate the Old Man’s lucky onion. Hence the nickname Onion and the idea that the Old Man needs to bring this young “girl” everywhere to bring him luck. That is until Harpers Ferry when everyone’s luck runs out.
This is a really interesting way to tell a story. It’s told as a memoir from Onion’s point of view, a completely made up character thrown into historical events. We meet Frederick Douglass and Harriett Tubman as well as some really amazing characters on the journey. This is a very human, and very flawed, view of America at the time as well as a story of what could have happened leading up to the raid on Harpers Ferry. Some of what you read is based on fact, and some is complete fiction, filling in the gaps of what might have been.
McBride manages to tell his story with warmth and humor but still manages to spark outrage in his readers at certain points. This is also the best use of dialect I have ever read. It’s not over the top, like Huckleberry Finn felt to me, but it’s there and really brings Onion and the other characters to life.