AUDIO BOOK REVIEW: The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride
SynopsisIn 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.
There are so many layers to this story I find it hard to review but mostly it's a story about community and caring for your fellow man. The story centers around Moshe and Chona Ludlow who own the Heaven and Earth Grocery store. Chona runs the store and Moshe runs a theater nearby that caters to all the people in the small community of Chicken Hill in Pottstown PA. Despite pleas to move along with the other Jewish immigrants, Chona refuses to leave Chicken Hill. Her grocery store is a big part of the community where people pay on credit or don't pay at all.
When a young deaf boy of color is threatened to be taken away to an institution due to not attending school Chona and Moshe take him in and help hide him. During an unfortunate event at the grocery store Dodo (the deaf boy) is taken away to Pennhurst Asylum.
Growing up near Pennhurst the stories McBride relays about the atrocities that happened in this institution are accurate and devastating. It is a huge complex that has been abandoned for years until recently when it has been unfortunately turned into a halloween attraction.
As the community comes together to save Dodo the only thing that gave me pause was the things that the villainous guard at the Asylum says to the people trying to rescue Dodo. Other than that this is a beautifully written story of community and while there are ups and downs to it, it still gave me so many warm feelings.
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