The Heart of It All

Told from the perspective of three very different families in a North Central Ohio town, Christian Kiefer's The Heart of It All depicts hope emerging from bleakness in the form of friendship, love, and the basic goodness of these Midwesterners. The town has lost all but one factory and has "begun to crumble in on itself." The novel opens with neighbors delivering casseroles to the Baileys, who are mourning the sudden death of their infant. Kiefer (The Animals) paints the community in vivid details of despair--the broken sidewalks, "an economy pitted wholly against them," stores in the three-stoplight downtown shuttered.

The grief-stricken Baileys are long-time residents, and Tom is grateful for his job in the factory, owned by Khalid Marwat. Khalid is a fair employer, appreciative of a life far better than the one he left in Lahore, and he welcomes his parents, moving to his family's home from Pakistan. Paula, a Kroger employee and the only Black woman in town, lives across from a Confederate flag-adorned porch with her 19-year-old nephew, who moved in with her from Cleveland to escape a tragic memory. As their lives intersect, these families exhibit grace, not allowing social ills to dissuade them from their belief in equality and the American dream. Richly drawn characters add depth to a town familiar with sorrow but strengthened by its deeply rooted collegiality in this compassionate novel of resilience and community. --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.

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