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The Sweet By and By: A Novel Paperback – March 30, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Johnson's bittersweet and often humorous hen-lit debut portrays the lives of five very different Southern women: compassionate Lorraine, bossy Margaret, grief-stricken Bernice, ambitious April and brusque Rhonda. At the center of this character-driven novel is Lorraine, a nurse at the nursing home where Margaret and Bernice live. As the three women drift into friendship, hairdresser Rhonda arrives to take a part-time job, and the older women begin to change her life. Lorraine's daughter, April, meanwhile, is also gradually drawn into the circle. The story unfolds slowly over decades and life milestones, giving the characters plenty of time to reveal themselves. Johnson has a sure ear for Southern speech, though the dialect can become tiresome, and the narrative's lack of plot makes the novel feel overlong. Nevertheless, the underlying message of the power of love and friendship resonates, as does its depiction of the way in which people leading unremarkable lives can have a tremendous impact on those around them. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“I am in love with this book -- the language, the story, the sass. Five women bickering, judging, loving, growing old together. You won’t stop laughing, even when your heart is hurting. Keep a pencil close -- you’ll be underlining all your favorite, funny lines.” (Kathryn Stockett, The Help)

“The women of The Sweet By and By have found a devoted muse in Todd Johnson.” (Alice Walker)

“Read The Sweet By and By…Johnson explores the lives of five Southern women who are unexpectedly connected to each other. While most of the action takes place in a nursing home, their stories never fall short of livelihood. Think of it as Steel Magnolias meets The Golden Girls.” (Real Simple, "Entertainment Picks")

“Give Todd Johnson an “A”…He made me laugh and cry…Johnson’s...five women...are as convincing as Reynolds Price’s Kate Vaiden and Allan Gurganus’ Lucy Marsden. From the first page they step into your life and start talking pure Southern music.” (Raleigh News & Observer)

“Bittersweet and often humorous...Johnson has a sure ear for Southern speech...the underlying message of the power of love and friendship resonates, as does its depiction of the way in which people leading unremarkable lives can have a tremendous impact on those around them.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Heartfelt and stunning…Mr. Johnson paints a lush portrait of Southern life in vivid detail with clarity and wit. You will be riveted by the story of a group of unlikely friends, five North Carolina women bonded by their shared histories, passions and secrets. It’s a genuine page turner.” (Adriana Trigiani)

“Save a place for this debut novel—essentially a hymn of praise for licensed practical nurses (LPNs)…Johnson does a fine job of illustrating the rich inner lives of those imprisoned by failing mental or physical health…Strongly recommended.” (Library Journal)

“Nothing short of amazing . . . I had a whole new perspective on both living and dying after reading this stunning novel.” (Birmingham News)

“Packed with so much poignancy readers might want to keep tissues handy…heartfelt…realistically portrays the challenges the elderly face and captures the authentic voices of these five very different women. This is a novel not to be missed.” (Las Vegas Review Journal)

“Gentle, sensitive...sometimes funny, occasionally sad, and ultimately life-affirming… Johnson has done an admirable job of making each woman distinct and memorable…the reader will have a clear picture of each in mind—and will feel fond of them..a fine debut. I look forward to seeing what Johnson writes next.” (Winston-Salem Journal)

“Poignant.” (Raleigh News & Observer)

“My favorite book of the past few months . . . As Johnson reveals these women to readers, you discover that he has captured the very souls of women we all know, respect and love.” (Greensboro News & Record)

“Fans of Fried Green Tomatoes will fall headlong into this humorous and heartfelt story . . .The cast handles the profusion of drama, tragedy, humor, and romance with some of the best narration listeners will find anywhere.” (AudioFile Magazine, on the audio edition)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; 1 edition (March 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061579513
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061579516
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (129 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #162,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Todd Johnson's bestselling novel THE SWEET BY AND BY received the Connecticut Book Award for Fiction and has been adapted for the stage by the Touring Theatre of North Carolina with a grant from the NC Arts Council. The novel was also named a PEOPLE "Great Reads For Your Book Club" Pick, a REAL SIMPLE "Entertainment Selection," a BOOKS-A-MILLION Book Club selection, and a SOUTHERN LIVING "Read of the Month."

Johnson has been a teacher and session singer in New York City and received a Tony Award nomination as a producer of THE COLOR PURPLE on Broadway. He is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and Yale.

Born and raised in North Carolina, he now lives and works in a 250-year-old farmhouse in Litchfield County, Connecticut, where he has completed his second novel.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 62 people found the following review helpful By D. P. Taylor VINE VOICE on February 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was initially drawn to this story because we placed my mother-in-law in a nursing home a few months ago after almost 20 years of living with us. I got MUCH more out of it than just a good story--more on that in a minute.

I really liked the style Todd Johnson used--first-person narrative of four main characters. He was able to show such different viewpoints of the same circumstances, e.g. life in a nursing home. The books spans quite a passage of time, but it's done so in a way that you don't miss all the details in-between; you simply adjust to the point in time where the story is being told and the changes that have occurred. He quietly conveys the slow decline of Margaret, the aging of Lorraine, the maturing of April, the personal growth of Rhonda--as well as the impact Bernice has on all of them. I appreciated how you could get a clear image of Ada by putting together each of the four characters' impressions of her! I learned to love these women as they showed compassion, patience, and kindness to those they befriended and waited on.

".....But as Mama always says, 'I don't care who you are, Sick and Old are comin
to see you whether you invite em or not."

On the deeper level, Todd Johnson is able to bring such a sensitive perspective of the journey we all will go on as we travel down the road of life--dependency on our parents..... independence.....dependency on our children and caregivers. We ALL want to be treated with dignity and kindness; if we live long enough, we will all change roles from caregiver to the person needing care; and as that happens, it is as frustrating for the receiver of that assistance as it can be for the giver (no ones wants to depend on someone else to do everything for them).
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By E. M. Griffith VINE VOICE on June 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Thanks to former "critics", and to the author for a life-changing look into aging, nursing homes, and life beyond youth. My 100 year old grandmother recently landed in a care home with a broken back, a kidney infection, advanced arthritis, and is now legally blind. She has, as she puts it, "all her marbles", and after nearly half her life independant (and having lived in Africa as a dorm mother for 6 years), this has been a terrible adjustment. She's moving to a better care home in our town this week. I ordered the book because it's where I'm living right now. In the moment. As I type, her clothes are in the wash for the move.

It has been a troubling, heart-wrenching journey. This past weekend we visited her former apartment, where she'd lived for more than three decades, to gather the clothes and things for her new life in the care home in my town. What does this have to do with the book?

I have a new understanding of what some of her feelings might be. Through Margaret and Lorraine, I have an idea of how to "be" when I am with her, which can be more frequently now that she'll be close. I understand the importance of dignity, and the indignities of growing old. I have already spoon fed her at times, but now will be more mindful and thankful when doing so. And I'm shopping for some new clothes for her. Looking good still matters to many women, regardless of age.

Many of us didn't have a Lorraine in our lives. We may have known a few Margarets or Bernices. Some of us are Anns, and some are Aprils, and a few are Rhondas of the world. Some may even be Connie's or Atheas. Some might be Clayton's wife... or Alvin, or Clayton, or Mike or whomever. What this book taught me is whether or not your're one of the above, there is a process.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By N. Ferguson R. on January 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I stayed up nearly all night reading this novel-- I cared so much about the characters that I really wanted to know what would happen next in their lives. When a snowstorm closed the office yesterday I read all day. At the end of the book I cried the best kind of reader's tears. This is a moving, very funny, and very wise book.

As one of the main characters says, "Life is choosing whom and what you love"-- this book explores that idea through the interconnected lives of five women. The story unfolds as a series of vignettes, each told in the "first person" voice of one of the main characters. All of these women are imperfect human beings, flawed and endearing in their own ways. Two live in a nursing home, trying to cope with the corresponding loneliness, loss of freedom, somewhat grim surroundings, and the inevitability of becoming sicker, weaker, and less in control of their own lives. The other three main characters are younger women who interact with the elderly characters. In this somewhat unlikely setting, the author unfolds a book about love through the end of life.

Elderly Margaret Clayton is much loved by her daughter Ann who visits nearly every day, but essentially she faces life with the support of the nurse who cares for her. Margaret feels very much like a real person to the reader, full of spirit and biting humor as she copes with all of the challenges and indignities of aging in a typical institution. The stark realities of aging and the discouragement she experiences are counterbalanced by her kind heart and capacity to love. We come to understand Margaret as a person who is still growing and facing new challenges through the final years of her life, even as her body and mind deteriorate.
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