Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review: The Sweet By and By by Todd Johnson

Todd Johnson has written a moving tale of what it means to grow older, facing not only the end of a life, but also of the physical and mental infirmities that often times accompany and dehumanize the elderly in so many small ways. In drawing his portraits of the five main characters, compassionate nursing home LPN Lorraine, demanding Margaret whose body has become a traitor to her will, Bernice who has retreated most of the time into dementia in order to escape her overwhelming grief, Rhonda who intends for her hairdressing job at the retirement home to be a fleeting occasion but who learns about love and caring from her ladies there, and Lorraine's daghter April who not only dares to dream but works to make her dreams a reality, Johnson has created a gentle and bittersweet novel.

Narrated in the voices of four of the five women, Johnson has not only managed to write one believable female character but to write five of them. He weaves humor and pathos in equal measure and quietly focuses on the indignities of aging that come for all of us lucky enough to accumulate many years on this planet of ours. There is no shying away from the ways in which aging isn't pretty or comfortable or easy. And there is a definite ackowledgment of the rage against the inevitable. But as the narrative runs throughout the years of these women's lives, their attitudes, their kindnesses, and the love that they show each other highlight the ways in which we can all maintain dignity and spunk to the very end no matter how bowed the bodies and how forgetful the minds.

Anyone who has cared for an aging parent or grandparent will see the sharp reflections of truth in the everyday existences of these characters. While there might be no grand denouement, just the business of waking up every day and moving forward for these characters makes this a wonderful and poignant read. Often narrated in a bit of Southern dialect, the five women are quite different representations of Southern womenhood but they gell despite their differences and the result is a thoroughly Southern novel which will appeal to anyone who likes their novels with a bit of that trademarked Southern sass and verve. The book chronicles the quiet march of time and brings the reader to care deeply for all the women as they age and especially as the elders leave the stage to the increasingly stooped middle generation. Johnson has truly created a quiet gem of a novel.

Todd Johnson's website

Todd Johnson's blog


Todd Johnson has a wonderful new video that was just released.

Also, he’s currently on a Southern tour right now. If you are anywhere near Raleigh, NC today, Fairhope, AL on Apr. 22, or Litchfield, CT on May 13, you can meet the author himself. A link to the full tour is here.

Todd Johnson will be on Blog Talk Radio with Book Club Girl on April 26, 2010 at 4pm EST. Be sure to tune in and listen.

Thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours for sending me a review copy of this book.

And although Mr. Johnson now lives in Connecticut, he was born, raised, and attended college in North Carolina so I am claiming him for the Literary Road Trip. It doesn't hurt that the book is also set in NC as well.


  1. I'm in Raleigh! This book sounds good. With my mom being in a nursing home, I would love to read this story. I also love books whose settings take place in NC.

  2. I think this sounds like such a beautiful story! I don't have aging parents yet (well, they're aging, but they're definitely not in nursing homes yet or in need of that), but I think this would give me some insight into what they will go through. Glad you enjoyed the book!

  3. I totally agree with your review, I thought this book was really excellent. It really caused me to think more about how we treat the elderly in our society, and I definitely reflected on how my own grandparents might deal with being in a nursing home.

  4. This book sounds so poignant! I have to look this one up!


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