For 17 years, the Nantucket Atheneum has led an annual tradition, helping choose a book for our island to read and discuss as one. Our American Library Association encourages librarians to engage a diverse group of selectors with the goal of wide participation in an annual community reading event. This year, in addition to our many friends working within Nantucket non-profit organizations, Nantucket's public library expanded the invitation to include book clubs, small businesses and any individual who wanted to submit their own candidate for OBOI's 2024 read.
We considered how many times certain titles were being recommended, their quality, their accessibility and relatable themes, and narrowed the field to three candidates, including How to Say Babylon (Sinclair) and The Starless Sea (Morgenstern). Votes piled up for a third choice and clear favorite, The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store, published in the summer of 2023 and penned by James McBride. Kirkus refers to the award winning author, musician and screenwriter as America’s “Storyteller-in-chief,” calling Heaven and Earth Grocery Store a “boisterous hymn to community, mercy, and karmic justice.”
This historical fiction novel opens in 1972 with the mysterious discovery of a skeleton found at the bottom of a well. But then a relentless hurricane descends, sweeping away the bones and scrubbing away the secrets of a story that began fifty years earlier. That’s when the striving theater manager Moshe marries Chona, the youngest daughter of Rabbi Flohr, owner of the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store on Chicken Hill.
Throughout the story, both accident and polio physically impact several of the novel's characters. Despite Chona’s limp, and perhaps partly because of it, she remains intrepidly vocal about the town's injustices, and steadfastly generous to the customers and factory workers who make up an oft-clashing mix of languages and cultures.
After the mass migration from Eastern Europe to the United States, many immigrants settled in Philadelphia, the majority of them working in sweatshops or bustling markets. The Jewish characters in Heaven & Earth Grocery Store face the same xenophobia and antisemitism in Pottsfield, PA.
There, Chona encourages her husband to desegregate his music theatre, and she resists leaving their black friends and neighbors on Chicken Hill, even though other Jewish families are making their move to a more affluent neighborhood. When Chona helps conceal and protect a deaf and black orphan, her efforts set off a harrowing and heroic chain of events. The diverse community must leverage its strength, its wits, and it's wondrous connections in order to save a boy and to deliver justice.
We appreciate The Artists Association of Nantucket (AAN) for nominating Heaven and Earth Grocery Store. A dedicated OBOI collaborator, The AAN’s mission is to “create a vibrant arts community by promoting, supporting and encouraging the work of Nantucket artists, providing educational programs in the arts, and preserving the legacy of Nantucket artists.”
Thanks to a grant from the Tupancy-Harris foundation, you may borrow and return one of more than a hundred physical and digital copies, available with a free and prívate library membership at the Nantucket Atheneum.
You may also obtain a free personal copy in THE GIVE-AWAY held at the AAN’s OBOI’s themed exhibition on March 15.
OBOI 2024 SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
Fri, FEB 23 - Read, Return, Repeat
Nantucket Atheneum, 1 India Street
Visit the Heaven and Earth Grocery Store book display; over 100 copies of the book will be available to borrow, in person or online at nantucketatheneum.org
(Note: this is not a giveaway)
Fri, MAR 15 - OBOI Art Exhibit &
Book Giveaway, while they last!
Artists Association, 19 Washington
AAN hosts the opening of the Heaven and Earth Grocery Store Art Exhibit, which will run until early April, on the second floor of the Cecilia Joyce and Seward Johnson Gallery.
Thurs, MAR 21 - Film Discussion
Nantucket Atheneum, 1 India
Join a library discussion about the 2008 Spike Lee film adaptation of McBride's Miracle at St. Anna, the story of four members of the U.S. Army's all-black division who become trapped behind enemy lines in Tuscany, Italy.
Sat, MAR 23 - Book Discussion
Nantucket Atheneum, 1 India
Head Librarian, Ann Scott, leads a round table discussion of Heaven and Earth Grocery Store, with themed refreshments and fun.
Discover past OBOI selections and other library services and activities at nantucketatheneum.org