In the 1984 movie,"The River", a frightened deer makes its way into a steel mill and some farmers, tricked into being strikebreakers, surround it and usher it out to safety. Well read viewers at at the time pointed out how similar that plot point was to Kurt Vonnegut's 1968 short story "A Deer in the Works", from his masterpiece collection Welcome to the Monkey House. Reporters, perhaps hoping for an angry hot take, were met with shrugs by the author who said, "It's good propaganda for humanity". I felt similarly about the latest novel from National Book Award winner James McBride. With graceful sentences that encourage lingering and a circular writing style that Venn diagrams its way to the point, this novel is both a good yarn about hardscrabble folks doing the right thing even when it's hard and a reminder of what we as humans owe one another. I predict major awards in this novel's future and, as I add my voice to the deafening chorus of praise, I encourage all readers of heart to share this book, we need it, and others like it, now more than ever.— From Sam's Picks
The Chicken Hill neighborhood of Pottstown, PA in the 1930s is home to a growing Black community and a dwindling Jewish community, with two things in common: they are poor and the white man isn't here to do them any favors. In this remarkable novel, both cultures team up to protect a young deaf boy from being sent away to a nightmarish asylum. Overflowing with compassion, the astounding depth of understanding between these seemingly disparate groups as they come together to defy The Man is powerful and moving as the threads come together in an amazing and bananas conclusion. Feeling overwhelmed by our modern divided times? James McBride has delivered a balm for your soul.— From Seth's Picks
The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store is the kind of book you can't put down but hate to see end, it's so beautifully done. Set in the 1930s, we get to know some of the people of Chicken Hill, a poor neighborhood in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, that has a mix of immigrant, Black, and Jewish residents. When the state tries to institutionalize a young deaf Black boy in a hellish facility, the community members from these different groups come together and try their best to protect him. McBride captures so well the beauty of community and the incredible ripple effects of one person's act of kindness. This book deserves all the awards. Read it; you'll be better for it.
**My 2023 book of the year**— From Beth's Picks
AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
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.
About the Author
James McBride is the author of the New York Times–bestselling Oprah’s Book Club selection Deacon King Kong, the National Book Award–winning The Good Lord Bird, the American classic The Color of Water, the novels Song Yet Sung and Miracle at St. Anna, the story collection Five-Carat Soul, and Kill ’Em and Leave, a biography of James Brown. The recipient of a National Humanities Medal and an accomplished musician, McBride is also a distinguished writer in residence at New York University.
Praise for The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store:
“I keep thinking every time I read one of his books, ‘That’s his best book.’ No. THIS is his best book.” —Ann Patchett
“This is one of those novels that becomes a part of you. It’s a great book. Every character is rich; every detail is rich. I can’t recommend this one highly enough. He’s a great author and I think this is his best work.” —Harlan Coben
“With this story, McBride brilliantly captures a rapidly changing country, as seen through the eyes of the recently arrived and the formerly enslaved . . . And through this evocation, McBride offers us a thorough reminder: Against seemingly impossible odds, even in the midst of humanity’s most wicked designs, love, community and action can save us.” —The New York Times Book Review
“The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store is one of the best novels I’ve read this year. It pulls off the singular magic trick of being simultaneously flattening and uplifting.” —NPR
“[A] tour de force . . . [a] mesmerizing, moving, almost magical tale . . . [McBride] writes sentences and paragraphs that swing like jazz melodies.” —The Associated Press
“Classic McBride: He doesn’t shy away from bold statements about the national catastrophes of race and xenophobia, and he always gives us a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. The sugar is McBride’s spitfire dialogue and murder-mystery-worthy plot machinations; his characters’ big personalities and bigger storylines; his wisecracking, fast-talking humor; and prose so agile and exuberant that reading him is like being at a jazz jam session. . . . Reading McBride just feels good—we are comforted and entertained, and braced for the hard lessons he also delivers.” —The Atlantic
"Sharp and nimble and warm as a wool hat, James McBride’s prose seems to transcend all earthly concerns, allowing him to write with compassion, humor and authority." —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“A story of community, care, and the lengths to which we'll go for justice, McBride's tale is a wondrous ode to the strength of humanity in a small town.” —Time Magazine
“Enchanting . . . [a] rich, carefully drawn portrait of a Depression-era community of African Americans and Jewish immigrants as they live, love, fight, and, of course, work.” —The Boston Globe
“McBride . . . would never advance any of his books as candidates for the Great American Novel. . . . I’d like to make a case, though, for Deacon King Kong and, now, The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store as better contenders for the 21st-century GAN than many other, more vaunted specimens. . . . In the words of Walt Whitman (an American writer McBride often brings to mind), they contain multitudes.” —Slate