finished reading

James McBride is one of my favorite storytellers.  I love how he weaves narrative threads together in unexpected ways.  And I love interconnected stories that bring multiple communities together.  This book is complex dealing with contemporary issues in historical settings (it feels weird to call the 1970s historical).  The book opens in 1972 when developers discover a skeleton and a mezuzah at the bottom of a well.  As the police question the one elderly Jewish resident of the Chicken Hill neighborhood in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, Hurricane Agnes hits the northeast and washes away the crime scene.  That transports us back to how the skeleton got into the well.  McBride tells that story from the mid-1920s on through different characters' overlapping experiences.  

I highly recommend the audio--the narrator is amazing!

From the publisher:
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.

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