The Sweet By and By by Todd Johnson

Title:  The Sweet By and By
Author:  Todd Johnson
Release date:  February 17, 2009
Publisher:  William Morrow
Pages:  320
Genre:  Adult fiction
Source:  Publisher

The Sweet By and By is a novel told in the voices of four different women.  There is Margaret, who is in her eighties and lives in a nursing home, Lorraine, one of the aides at the home, April, Lorraine’s daughter, and Rhonda, a hairdresser who does the ladies’ hair at the home once a week.  Intertwined with all four of their lives is another resident of the nursing home, Bernice, whose mind has been taken over by grief and possibly her age, and is now what some might call senile.  Over weeks, months, and years, The Sweet By and By tells the story of these five women as they get to know each other and deal with some huge heartaches and happinesses in their lives.

When I first began reading this novel, I was thinking I was in for another book about female relationships (this is not a complaint, I LOVE those kinds of books).  But while The Sweet By and By revolves around five women, it is about so much more than just the friendships between them.  Because it spans years, it really is about their individual lives, about the difficult things life throws at them and about their success stories and about how all those things made them into the people they were at the end of the novel.  It was such a charming read, but more than charming, it was deep too.  Deeper than I was expecting from a novel with dresses on the cover, but totally great all the same.

While I was hoping to connect with all of the characters in the novel, what I didn’t expect was how much I loved Margaret.  My first impression was that I wouldn’t be able to relate to her – I have nothing in common with her, on the surface.  But reading from Margaret’s point of view gave me so much food for thought about how we treat our elderly people in this society, sticking them in nursing homes, stripping them of their dignity and freedom to make their own choices, and treating them in general as if they are second-class citizens just based on their age and inability to perform certain tasks.  I thought about how lucky I am that all three of my remaining grandparents are still able to live on their own, unassisted by nurses or family members.  And how difficult it would be for any of the three of them if they were forced to sell their homes and move to a nursing home.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in a nursing home before, but The Sweet By and By captured everything about what life must be like for the residents there perfectly.  It was sad and sweet and heartwarming all at the same time.

My second favorite character in the novel, after Margaret, has to be Lorraine.  I enjoyed how Johnson drew out her story over the course of the novel, revealing so much about her past over the span of several chapters.  She had been through so much heartache in her life, yet she was still so giving and loyal to others.  She took such great care of Margaret, Bernice, and the other residents at the home despite the pain she was carrying around with her.  And she tried so hard to protect her daughter from her own issues, although eventually they had an extremely poignant mother-daughter moment that broke my heart (in a good way).

I was so charmed by The Sweet By and By, honestly I just found this to be such a sweet, engrossing novel.  Even though parts of the book brought a tear to my eye, overall it is such a hopeful book and there is so much love between the characters packed in just over 300 pages.  For those of you who adore Southern fiction, this is a must-read.  And as for the rest of you, it truly is a wonderful story that really made me think.  I highly recommend The Sweet By and By.


9 thoughts on “The Sweet By and By by Todd Johnson”

  1. That book sounds amazing. I feel very fortunate that my parents have managed to take care of themselves so far. My dad is 90 and he’s made it very clear that he wants to die in his own home. We hope his wish comes true, but not for a while yet, obviously.

  2. sounds like such a good read! like you, i tend to be wary of the formulaic ‘women’s friendship’ books…but glad this one delivered.

    my great-aunt passed away last month at the ripe old age of 100. she lived in her own home–alone until age 99, with a live-in after that–until the last month of her life. she was spry and maintained most of her faculties. auntie was one of the first women to graduate from rutgers in new jersey. she lived a full life and traveled extensively. she was an avid reader until the end.

    the sweet by and by sounds like it offers perspective that younger generations don’t always consider. thanks for the review!

  3. does this book actually speak of the way old people live and the kind of ignorance they have to face from the younger generation? If so, it indeed sounds very interesting and I would want to read it. Moreover I have visited Todd Johnson’s page and have a feeling that he writes well.

  4. Random fact/question: Did it mention where the title came from? There’s an old hymn with the line “in the sweet by and by,” and I’m wondering if the book referenced that. Sounds like a good book!

  5. I love that a book about the elderly and aging is described by lots of reviewers as hopeful. For some reason, that just makes me want to read it. 🙂

    Thanks for being on the tour!

  6. I have read this book a while back now and I really enjoyed it. It was a very heart-warming story of several different woman (in age, color, views, etc.) and how they each grow and learn from the other. Good book that I would recommend to everyone.

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