The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store

Posted December 27, 2023 by Carole in Reviews / 6 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Heaven & Earth Grocery StoreThe Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride
Narrator: Dominic Hoffman
Published by Penguin Random House Audio, Riverhead Books on August 8, 2023
Genres: Fiction / Literary
Length: 12 hours 21 minutes
Pages: 400
Format: ARC, Audiobook
Source: Publisher
Amazon | Audible | B&N | Kobo |


“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.

I really wanted to love this book, but it was just kind of okay for me. I decided to give it a try after seeing quite a few positive reviews and the fact that it has been named Barnes & Noble’s Book of the Year and Amazon’s Best Book of 2023. I saw the book described as a murder mystery and I expected a murder mystery. It would be a stretch to call this book any kind of mystery so my expectations were a bit off.

The story is very well-written. The bulk of the book is set in a small area of Pennsylvania called Chicken Hill during the 1930’s. This area is home to a quirky cast of Black and Jewish residents. Throughout this novel, we meet many characters and learn their backstory. It was interesting to see how interconnected this community was. I liked some characters more than others but I found something interesting in each of their stories.

I listened to the audiobook and thought that Dominic Hoffman did a fabulous job with this story. I believe that this is the first time that I have had a chance to listen to this narrator’s work and I was very impressed. He handled the vast cast of characters quite well which helped maintain my interest. I am certain that his performance is a big reason why I liked this book as much as I did, and I hate to admit that I am not sure that I would have finished without his narration.

This book is going to work a lot better for many readers than it did for me. I spent most of the book waiting for someone to die so we could explain the bones found at the very beginning. Unfortunatly, the author doesn’t circle back to those bones until the very end of the story and by then I didn’t care anymore.

I received a digital review copy of this book from Riverhead Books and Penguin Random House Audio.

6 responses to “The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store

  1. I’ve seen this book around, most notably as you said as the B&N best book of 2023, however it hasn’t motivated me to pick it up. Sounds like I’m not missing anything. I wonder how B&N chooses their best book of 2023.

  2. That’s too bad that this was a bit meh as the premise does sound really good. Honestly, though award winners always make a bit nervous. They never quite live up to the hype for me.