Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Review: The Sweet By and By

Summary: Meet five North Carolina women who are about to change the way you think about friendship. For Rhonda, a gritty, fun-loving hairdresser in tight jeans, the sights and smells of Ridgecrest Nursing Center are depressing. But before she can change her mind about working there, two residents glue themselves to her: Margaret, droll and whip-smart, with a will of iron that never fails her even when her body does, and Bernice, an avid country music fan who is rarely lucid. Together with Lorraine, their church-going, God-questioning nurse, and her daughter, April, bright and ambitious, they lock arms in courage and humor for a journey that speaks to us all—of how we live and die, of how we love and forgive. -- William Morrow

I absolutely love a good Southern fiction book and I know many of you feel the same way. That's why I'm so happy to share with you a very good book called THE SWEET BY AND BY by Todd Johnson. This book is about five women who are brought together in a unlikely friendship because of where they lived or worked -- a nursing home. It is a touching, yet hopeful, story that is guaranteed to affect you deeply.

THE SWEET BY AND BY was a wonderful book on many levels. I enjoyed so many things about it that it's difficult to just focus on a few. I guess I would have to start with the story itself. I love books about female friendships, and THE SWEET BY AND BY was definitely a book about all types of friendships. In fact, THE SWEET BY AND BY was a story about some very non-traditional friendships. There were friendships between the nursing home patients, the employees, the volunteers and the family members. I loved that this book showcased the importance of these dedicated workers on both the patients as well as their families -- they truly are special people to do this type of work.

Another thing that I really liked about this novel was the way the author told the story. There were five female narrators, and the chapters were written in each of their voices. Of course, I had one or two characters whom I really loved; however, all of the characters' voices were written in such a way that they were believable. I think what amazed me the most about this book was that it was written by a man. He not only seems to "get" women as well as their friendships, but he understands family relations, aging, and even grief. Mr. Johnson is a beautiful writer and a gifted storyteller.

But what I think I loved most about THE SWEET BY AND BY was how it made me look at older people, nursing homes, and the people who work at nursing homes. (I read somewhere that this novel is being given to workers in nursing homes as a way teach them compassion about their patients.) There is no doubt that THE SWEET BY AND BY was an especially relevant read for me at this point in my life. I am incredibly fortunate that I still have three of my grandparents living and they are all in pretty good health; however, last year one of my grandmothers fell down the stairs into her basement and broke her leg. Since that time, she has been residing in a nursing home because she is wheelchair bound. I feel as if I'm a terrible person, but I admit that it's very difficult for me to go there and visit her. (Yes, I realize I need to put aside my "issues" and discomfort for the greater good of spending time with her -- and I do -- just not as often as I should.)

What I so deeply appreciated about this book was that it allows the reader to see that older people are still people. They have the same feelings, desires, thoughts and reactions that everyone else does. I think all too often when someone enters a nursing home and shows some signs of dementia, we tend to think they are less "human" than the rest of us. Maybe it's our way of coping with their aging and loss of dignity, but it seems as if some people think the older someone gets, the less intelligent they are. THE SWEET BY AND BY demonstrates that this isn't the case through the voice of the aging Margaret as well as through the friendships of the workers and the patients. I absolutely adored how this novel made these elderly patients so real!

I have no doubt that many book clubs will appreciate THE SWEET BY AND BY, and I do think it is an ideal discussion book. Since almost all of us are affected by having parents and/or grandparents who are aging as well as having family members who possibly will enter nursing homes (either now or in the future), this book is a wonderful way to incite personal thoughts and discussion about these often times uncomfortable topics. There is a reading guide available (if you think you need one) that has thirteen in-depth questions about the novel -- I was pleasantly surprised by how good they are. Some of the topics you might want to talk about include the circle of life, grief, mental illness, sacrifice, aging, friendships, racial relations, secrets, forgiveness, and lots more!

THE SWEET BY AND BY seems to be getting a lot of well-deserved attention in the next few weeks. The author Todd Johnson is touring, so check out his tour schedule to see if he is coming to a location near you. In addition, Book Club Girl will be hosting Mr. Johnson on her BlogTalk Radio radio show on Monday, April 26th at 7:00 p.m. ET.

You might also want to check out out this video about THE SWEET BY AND BY. I think it captures the essence of the book perfectly, and you'll get an idea of the potential this book has to touch your heart.



Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me participate in the blog tour for THE SWEET BY AND BY. You can check out out the other stops on the tour here.

18 comments:

Ti said...

This book is making the rounds but I had no idea what it was about. I think it's neat that it's being given to nursing home workers in an attempt to teach compassion. My husband's grandmother ended up in a nursing home because of her medical requirements and the staff was less than caring. It broke our hearts.

PeachyTO said...

Thanks for the review. I am definitely interested in picking this one up after your review, and look forward to maybe passing it on to my grandmother afterward.

Cheers ;-)

bermudaonion said...

You need to move to the South! That trailer made me cry, so I can just imagine what the book will do to me. My last grandparent died when I was in the 3rd grade, so I don't remember them too much, but my parents are 83 and 90 now - thankfully they're still able to live at home, but it's not always easy.

Jill said...

I so enjoyed this book! I agree...it was so authentic that it's so hard to believe the author is a man! He nailed the women's voices/perspectives...and the South!

Kay said...

I'm so excited about your review of this book. I plan to read it and just went and purchased it for my Kindle. My mom lives in assisted living in the memory care section. Her caretakers are wonderful people, nurturing and loving. I know that we are lucky in that. I look forward to entering the world that The Sweet By and By inhabits.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds like fun. Jim's mom is in a nursing home and it is very surprising to see all that goes on there, with the flirting, and cliques, and friendships, and best of all, the support system they all develop with one another. Not all of it is a happy place, but a lot more than one would think!

Allie said...

Ooh! Not only am I dying to read this, but I think I know what I'll be sending J's grandmother for her birthday!

Tribute Books said...

Sounds like an enjoyable good read, thanks!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

It sounds like THE SWEET BY AND BY addresses friendships/relationships between generations, too. Is it a "feel good" book in the end? Or should we bring a lot of tissues with us?

Anna said...

I love a good Southern novel, and I used to work at an assisted living facility in high school and college, so I've added this to my to-read list.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Sandy Nawrot said...

I love books set in the south, as I am an official southerner, having lived here for 18 years! That video made me cry. I miss my grandmothers so much.

trish said...

So glad you liked it! I think this book sounds awesome, and I love that a man wrote from a woman's perspective and actually got it right! Like you said, sounds like a great book club pick!

Jo-Jo said...

I'm glad you liked this book Julie...I know I sure did!

Darlene said...

I love a good Southern novel and one including friendships too -this sounds perfect. Thanks for the great review Julie!

Amused said...

Any book that has Southern and women's friendship in the review gets my vote! I'll read it :)

Maw Books said...

I love the title alone and your review for it is wonderful.

April said...

Great review, Julie! I loved this one as well and completely agree how it gives a much deserved look at today's elderly and the fact that they deserve so much kindness and respect. I think this author has an awesome talent and I can't wait to read what he comes up with next!
I am the tour stop for today, so if you get a chance, would love to have you stop by! Have a great day!

Karlie said...

I know I will love this book! Southern fiction set around a nursing home? Perfect for me!