Book Review: The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride

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. (from

 [T]he result is a mesmerizing work. Even minor characters are richly imagined, and McBride’s descriptions are marvels of concision, as when he calls one character “a thick, barrel-chested man of dangerous silences.” McBride has found the perfect vehicle for dramatizing conflicts among Jewish, Black, and white Christian communities in this lively novel. —Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

Through this story, he asks: How do racial and class divides manifest in how we know and see one another and in how we allow ourselves to be known and seen? “The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store” is a charming, smart, heart-blistering and heart-healing novel. —Danez Smith is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently “Homie,” which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the NAACP Image Award.

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