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.