There was so much going on in The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store! The book’s sprawling cast of characters, the community relationships between the Jews and the African Americans, and the specter of intolerance, for starters. But there were also themes like how a generous heart and loyalty can create community, how one can retain their humanity even during overwhelming circumstances, and how different cultures can indeed co-exist.
And if you loved all that and want more books like The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, we’ve got you covered. I’ve pulled together a list of books similar to The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store in one of the following three ways. The first explores race and struggle with books that are set during the depression, or that feature racist treatment of children and black men. The second group cues in on the Jewish culture of Chicken Hill. And the third features novels with a large cast and multiple POVs.
So, there’s a lot here that you can discover and plenty of fodder for your TBR list.
If you’ve read McBride’s masterpiece for book club, be sure to use our Heaven & Earth Grocery Store discussion guide to help get the conversation going.
This article features new authors to try. But if you really loved The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, and McBride’s writing style, you should take a look at his backlist. For instance, you’ll find more themes of grief and community in Deacon King Kong.
Books Like The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store: Race & Struggle
The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead
The Nickel Boys cues on themes of unfair incarceration and mistreatment a la the storyline between Dodo and Monkey Pants.
After Elwood makes an innocent mistake, his hopes of attending college are completely derailed and he’s sentenced to the Nickel Academy, which is less an academy and more a juvenile prison. The environment is corrupt and vicious, and the “students” need Hunger Games level skills to survive.
Elwood meets the scheming Turner, and together they make an unlikely pair, doing what they must to survive.
This Tender Land, William Kent Kreuger
Like Heaven & Earth, this book is also set in the 1930’s, features kids in peril and it has a character with a speech disability. The action starts at the The Lincoln Indian Training School, which could give the Nickel Academy a run for the money in the cruelty and privation department. The school houses Native American children and is designed to give the kids an ethnic cleansing, or white-washing through education.
Our four protagonists include: Odie and Albert, (who are white, but they are at the school because the nearby orphanage is full), Mosie (a Native American who doesn’t speak), and little Emmy (who’s terrified of the people who run the school). Together they escape, steal a boat and travel down the river in search of a better life.
The Four Winds, Kristin Hannah
This book is also set in the 1930’s and cues on Heaven & Earth’s themes of tough times, tough women and the struggle to get by
It’s the Depression, and the dust bowl drought has ravaged Elsa’s farm. The crops and farm animals are dying and then her son takes ill. Elsa has to decide whether to stick it out, or like so many others, take a perilous journey and migrate to California.
Read it for book club and use our Four Winds reading guide to aid your group discussion.
Native Son, Richard Wright
Wright’s Bigger Thomas character shares some similar traits and storyline as McBride’s Nate. And the book is also set in the 1930’s, this time in Chicago.
Bigger is not a character that you’re going to like– he’s not your sympathetic hero. He accidentally kills a woman in a moment of panic and later commits another assault. But in the book, Wright explores how black and white people misunderstand one another, the psychological elements at play between race and poverty, the larger societal crimes that created a criminal, and racism in the criminal justice system.
If You Loved The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store’s Yiddish Touch
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon
Chabon often features Jewish characters at the center of his stories, so if you want more of that (and may some more Yiddish), check out his backlist.
In Kavalier & Clay, we have the pleasure of meeting two Jewish cousins. Kavalier is a Jewish artist who escaped Nazi-occupied Prague and landed in NYC, where he meets up with his ambitious cousin Clay. Together they create an epic comic series (think, the original Marvel) that pushes the whole art form into a new direction.
You get their full story arc, along with some very complicated romantic dynamics, and family tragedies. With themes like the price you pay for chasing the American dream and the friction between art and business.
Before All the World, Moriel Rothman-Zecher
This under-the-radar pick is great if you loved The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store’s presentation of friendship between the Jewish and African American characters.
This novel is set in Philadelphia toward the end of Prohibition. Charles is a black labor-organizer who speaks Yiddish. Lyeb is a Jewish immigrant who (barely) survived the anti-Bolshevik pogroms in the fictional Zatelsk, Russia. And Gittl, his sister, is a poet/seer who sees the ghosts of dead family members. Charles and Lyeb meet in a former speakeasy, which is also a semi-secret gay bar.
The book shares the backstory of the three characters, exploring what it will take for them to build a better world for themselves.
But wait…there’s more to the book than just a plot summary. Rochman-Zecher has heavily spiced the language of the book with Yiddish, forcing the reader to give the novel a careful reading.
The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker
This book is for those of you who were intrigued by the Malachi character. He was a ghost, a spark of light, a catalyst…and for some readers…a golem.
Chava is also a golem. She’s a kabbalistic creature made of clay and animated by a disgraced rabbi. He brings her to life, intending to make her his wife, but when he dies at sea, Chava ends up at the NYC harbor, at loose ends.
Ahmad is the jinni. He was uncorked from an old copper flask inn the Little Syria neighborhood of New York. Once released, he’s trapped in the body of a human. Each works to integrate themselves into NYC. And when Chava and Ahmad encounter one another and develop their relationship, they learn to navigate their peculiar immigrant experience together.
The book is a fairy tale that uses the folklore of two different cultures to raise questions about the immigrant experience.
Sprawling Characters and Multiple POVs
There There, Tommy Orange
This book doesn’t feature a small town, nor a melting pot of African Americans and Jews. But, like Heaven and Earth Grocery Store, it does feature a very large cast of characters presenting their individual points of view.
There There provides perspectives of modern Native American life, providing historical context and realities to their story. The story converges around 12 people who are all traveling to the same Oakland, California Pow Wow. They each bring their own experience of urban life and what it means to be a Native American in current times, each with their own unique journey, experiences and tough decisions to make about how to live their lives.
Beartown, Fredrik Backman
How is a story about a hockey team in Sweden even remotely like The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store? Well, if you loved The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store’s small town vibe and sprawling cast of characters, Beartown is your next read.
This Swedish burg a typical small town that has suffered economically from declining industry. The town’s residents have pinned all of their hopes and dreams on the success of their junior hockey team. This puts an inordinate amount of pressure on the kids and coaches and their family members. The resulting strain stretches the morality of some characters, and the loyalty of others.
The Heart of it All, Christian Kiefer
The small Ohio town at the center of this novel is also failing. And it also shares Heaven & Earth’s multi-culti device by featuring three families: some characters are white, others have immigrated from Central Asia and there’s also an African American outsider.
They are all connected through employment at the local factory and the story covers their economical, emotional, and social struggles. Like the residents of Chicken Hill, these community members try to rise above their struggles through small acts of kindness, friendship and acceptance.
More Readalike Lists
We’ve also got a whole bunch more readalike lists which may fit your Heaven & Earth vibe.
- Bravery and taking chances: Books like All the Light We Cannot See.
- Intolerance and kids in peril: Books like Where the Crawdads Sing.
- Friendship, loyalty and secrets: Books like The Rose Code.
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