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"I want you to know something if you don't already. Life is choosing whom and what you love. Everything else follows . . ."
Among the longleaf pines and family farms of eastern North Carolina, days seem to pass without incident for Margaret Clayton and Bernice Stokes until they discover each other in a friendship that will take them on the most important journey of their lives. Margaret, droll and whip smart, has a will of iron that never fails her even when her body does, while Bernice, an avid country-music fan, is rarely lucid. Irreverent and brazen at every turn, they make a formidable pair at the home where they live, breaking all the rules and ultimately changing the lives of those around them. Lorraine, their churchgoing, God-questioning nurse, both protects and provokes them while they are under her watchful eye, as her daughter, April, bright and ambitious, determinedly makes her way through medical school. Rounding out the group of unlikely and often outrageous friends is Rhonda, the Bud-swilling beautician who does the ladies' hair on her day off and whose sassy talk hides a vulnerable heart, one that finally opens to love.
Weaving this tightly knit and compelling novel in alternating chapters, each woman gets to tell her story her own way, as all five learn to reconcile troubled pasts, find forgiveness, choose hope, and relish the joy of life. Rich with irresistible characters whose uniquely musical voices overflow the pages, The Sweet By and By is a testament to the truth that the most vibrant lives are not necessarily the most visible ones.
About the Author
Todd Johnson was born and raised in North Carolina. Following a career as a teacher and studio singer in New York City, he received a Tony Award nomination as a producer of The Color Purple on Broadway. He studied history at UNC-Chapel Hill and holds a master's degree from Yale Divinity School. He lives in Connecticut. This is his first novel.
If The Sweet By and By prompts you to share a personal story, please write to Todd@ToddJohnsonBooks.com.
Praise for The Sweet By and By…
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Nothing short of amazing . . . I had a whole new perspective on both living and dying after reading this stunning novel.”
“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.”
-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