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The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store
Cover of The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store
The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
THE RUNAWAY NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
FROM ONE OF TIME MAGAZINE'S 100 MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE OF 2024
NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY NPR/FRESH AIR, WASHINGTON POST, THE NEW YORKER, AND TIME MAGAZINE
ONE OF BARACK OBAMA'S FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2023
“A murder mystery locked inside a Great American Novel . . . Charming, smart, heart-blistering, and heart-healing.” —Danez Smith, The New York Times Book Review
“We all need—we all deserve—this vibrant, love-affirming novel that bounds over any difference that claims to separate us.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
From James McBride, author of the bestselling Oprah’s Book Club pick Deacon King Kong and the National Book Award–winning The Good Lord Bird, a novel about small-town secrets and the people who keep them

In 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.
    Bringing his masterly storytelling skills and his deep faith in humanity to The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, James McBride has written a novel as compassionate as Deacon King Kong and as inventive as The Good Lord Bird.
THE RUNAWAY NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
FROM ONE OF TIME MAGAZINE'S 100 MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE OF 2024
NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY NPR/FRESH AIR, WASHINGTON POST, THE NEW YORKER, AND TIME MAGAZINE
ONE OF BARACK OBAMA'S FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2023
“A murder mystery locked inside a Great American Novel . . . Charming, smart, heart-blistering, and heart-healing.” —Danez Smith, The New York Times Book Review
“We all need—we all deserve—this vibrant, love-affirming novel that bounds over any difference that claims to separate us.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
From James McBride, author of the bestselling Oprah’s Book Club pick Deacon King Kong and the National Book Award–winning The Good Lord Bird, a novel about small-town secrets and the people who keep them

In 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.
    Bringing his masterly storytelling skills and his deep faith in humanity to The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, James McBride has written a novel as compassionate as Deacon King Kong and as inventive as The Good Lord Bird.
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  • Library Journal

    March 1, 2023

    In this follow-up to the New York Times best-selling, Oprah's Book Club-honored Deacon King Kong, a skeleton is discovered when foundations are dug in a 1970s Black and immigrant Jewish neighborhood in Pottstown, PA. And that might have something to do with efforts by residents to protect a deaf boy from institutionalization. Prepub Alert.

    Copyright 2023 Library Journal

    Copyright 2023 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from June 26, 2023
    National Book Award winner McBride (Deacon King Kong) tells a vibrant tale of Chicken Hill, a working-class neighborhood of Jewish, Black, and European immigrant families in Pottstown, Pa., where the 1972 discovery of a human skeleton unearths events that took place several decades earlier. In 1925, Moshe Ludlow owns the town’s first integrated dance hall and theater with his wife, Chona, a beautiful woman who’s undeterred by her polio-related disability and driven by her deep Jewish faith. Chona also runs the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, where she extends kindness and indefinite credit to her Jewish and Black customers alike. When Nate and Addie Tamblin, friends and employees of the Ludlows who are Black, approach the couple for help keeping their nephew, Dodo, from becoming a ward of the state, Chona doesn’t hesitate to open her home to hide the boy from the authorities. As the racist white “good Christians” from down the hill begin to interfere, claiming to be worried about Dodo’s welfare, a two-fold tragedy occurs that brings the community together to exact justice, which leads to the dead body discovered years later. McBride’s pages burst with life, whether in descriptions of Moshe’s dance hall, where folks get down to Chick Webb’s “gorgeous, stomping, low-down, rip-roaring, heart-racing jazz,” or a fortune teller who dances and cries out to God before registering her premonitions on a typewriter. This endlessly rich saga highlights the different ways in which people look out for one another.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from June 1, 2023
    McBride follows up his hit novel Deacon King Kong (2020) with another boisterous hymn to community, mercy, and karmic justice. It's June 1972, and the Pennsylvania State Police have some questions concerning a skeleton found at the bottom of an old well in the ramshackle Chicken Hill section of Pottstown that's been marked for redevelopment. But Hurricane Agnes intervenes by washing away the skeleton and all other physical evidence of a series of extraordinary events that began more than 40 years earlier, when Jewish and African American citizens shared lives, hopes, and heartbreak in that same neighborhood. At the literal and figurative heart of these events is Chona Ludlow, the forbearing, compassionate Jewish proprietor of the novel's eponymous grocery store, whose instinctive kindness and fairness toward the Black families of Chicken Hill exceed even that of her husband, Moshe, who, with Chona's encouragement, desegregates his theater to allow his Black neighbors to fully enjoy acts like Chick Webb's swing orchestra. Many local White Christians frown upon the easygoing relationship between Jews and Blacks, especially Doc Roberts, Pottstown's leading physician, who marches every year in the local Ku Klux Klan parade. The ties binding the Ludlows to their Black neighbors become even stronger over the years, but that bond is tested most stringently and perilously when Chona helps Nate Timblin, a taciturn Black janitor at Moshe's theater and the unofficial leader of his community, conceal and protect a young orphan named Dodo who lost his hearing in an explosion. He isn't at all "feeble-minded," but the government wants to put him in an institution promising little care and much abuse. The interlocking destinies of these and other characters make for tense, absorbing drama and, at times, warm, humane comedy. McBride's well-established skill with narrative tactics may sometimes spill toward the melodramatic here. But as in McBride's previous works, you barely notice such relatively minor contrivances because of the depth of characterizations and the pitch-perfect dialogue of his Black and Jewish characters. It's possible to draw a clear, straight line from McBride's breakthrough memoir, The Color of Water (1996), to the themes of this latest work. If it's possible for America to have a poet laureate, why can't James McBride be its storyteller-in-chief?

    COPYRIGHT(2023) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from July 1, 2023

    Chicken Hill, a pre--World War II Pennsylvania community, doesn't seem like much: it's poor, with no running water and a population consisting of multiple marginalized groups--Jewish, Black, Italian--all struggling, scheming, and hoping for the best while writhing in seemingly intractable disappointment. But in this latest from McBride (Deacon King Kong), their defeats evolve into triumphs. In this complex novel, McBride takes a mash-up of plots and over a dozen main characters, each with his or her own history, and weaves them together seamlessly with humor, empathy, and a determined sense of justice. The final third of the book focuses on a conspiracy by the people of Chicken Hill to rescue one of their own, a Deaf, Black, 12-year-old orphan named Dodo, from a nightmarish state asylum like something out of Dickens. Dodo was committed to this house of horrors through the treachery of a local doctor and KKK leader, Doc Roberts. But fortune has a way of flipping things around, sometimes in the right direction, and McBride ends the novel with so much poignancy and heartfelt sympathy for his characters that readers will be hard-pressed not to be moved. VERDICT A compelling novel, compellingly written, and not to be missed.--Michael F. Russo

    Copyright 2023 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from May 15, 2023
    McBride is the maestro of the neighborhood saga, following the Carnegie-winning, Brooklyn-set Deacon King Kong (2020) with a tale of strife and love set in Chicken Hill, a hardscrabble section of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, that is home to African Americans who fled racial violence in the Deep South and Jews who escaped the pogroms of Eastern Europe. Lovely and righteous Chona, left disabled after a bout with polio, takes over Chicken Hill's sole grocery store after the death of her rabbi father, while Moshe, her adoring, jazz-fan husband, runs a theater, becoming the first manager around to welcome both whites and Blacks. Nate, an African American, is his trusted assistant; Addie, Nate's wife, is close to Chona, and their neighbors are vibrant, complicated individuals, each improvising ways to get by, ultimately joining forces to try to keep the authorities from taking Dodo, a smart, sweet, Black, orphaned deaf boy, to the hellish state asylum. McBride incisively and prismatically evokes the timbre of Jewish and Black lives of the times, while spinning intriguing backstories and choreographing telling struggles over running water, class divides, and prejudice of all kinds. Funny, tender, knockabout, gritty, and suspenseful, McBride's microcosmic, socially critiquing, and empathic novel dynamically celebrates difference, kindness, ingenuity, and the force that compels us to move heaven and earth to help each other.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Much-awarded, Oprah-anointed, and best-selling McBride is a must-read writer for an immense audience.

    COPYRIGHT(2023) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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James McBride
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