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The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride


Title: The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store
Author: James McBride
Year published: 2023
Category: Adult fiction
Pages: 400 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location: (my 2024 Google Reading map): USA (Pennsylvania, South Carolina)

SummaryIn 1972, when workers in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, were digging the foundations for a new development, the last thing they expected to find was a skeleton at the bottom of a well. Who the skeleton was and how it got there were two of the long-held secrets kept by the residents of Chicken Hill, the dilapidated neighborhood where immigrant Jews and African Americans lived side by side and shared ambitions and sorrows. Chicken Hill was where Moshe and Chona Ludlow lived when Moshe integrated his theater and where Chona ran the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store. When the state came looking for a deaf boy to institutionalize him, it was Chona and Nate Timblin, the Black janitor at Moshe’s theater and the unofficial leader of the Black community on Chicken Hill, who worked together to keep the boy safe.

As these characters’ stories overlap and deepen, it becomes clear how much the people who live on the margins of white, Christian America struggle and what they must do to survive. When the truth is finally revealed about what happened on Chicken Hill and the part the town’s white establishment played in it, McBride shows us that even in dark times, it is love and community—heaven and earth—that sustain us.

Review: This is my second James McBride novel. I really enjoyed listening to Deacon King Kong (link to my review) and the narrator is the same as this book. Dominic Hoffman is an excellent narrator.

McBride has an amazing knack for weaving the lives of neighbors, friends, family, and enemies into one story. I think there are a few characters then every time someone new is mentioned, we get their backstory; how they fit into the neighborhood, how they are related to other characters we've heard about. He is a master at creating a scene, a feeling of an era.

This novel relates the stories of folks living in Chicken Hill; Jews, Blacks, and a few Christians. They all have history, hatred, and love for one another. The author brings in racism, fear, a bit of history, social class, the concept of power, and more to round out the feeling of the time and place.

So much happens to these characters, but it doesn't feel outrageous or too much. Each side story connects the people and events that come together in the end in a brilliant way.

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • Literary Escapes--South Carolina

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