Audio CD(Unabridged, 9 CDs, 10 hrs. 13 min.)

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781441857835
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication date: 03/28/2010
Edition description: Unabridged, 9 CDs, 10 hrs. 13 min.
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.10(h) x 1.40(d)

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.

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Read an Excerpt

The Sweet By and By

Chapter One


I barely have got in the door good and it's already three thirty in the afternoon. Church seemed like it lasted too long this morning and I didn't come straight home like I usually do. Althea was determined to take me over to her house cause she had fixed collards and was bound for me to have some with her cornbread and dumplings, so now I'm 'bout to pop wide-open. She said she might not go to church so much if it wasn't for me, it takes so much time out of a Sunday. I told her, "Don't be puttin the burden of your soul on me, girl. You're too hardheaded to change, and I'm too smart to try and make you."

Althea used to decorate cakes for a livin out of her own kitchen 'til it 'bout killed her it got to be so much work. She did birthdays, anniversaries, weddings of course, retirements, and a -couple times she even made a cake for a funeral, but I don't think there was much decoration on those. Now she works in an insurance office, mostly houses and cars is what they do. She picks me up on Sunday mornings for church sometimes, I think she likes to have some company ridin, and there ain't no way her husband is gon go unless a meal is bein served. She is one drivin woman, I tell you that. Wants to go, go, go every minute. This morning we had time to drink a cup of coffee cause she got to my house so fast. I pulled out the cups and put four big spoons of sugar in hers or else she woulda asked me if I was tryin to put her on a diet.

"Well," Althea said, raising her eyebrows when she took the hot coffee from me. "Lorraine, I've had a revelation."

"Was it the Ten Commandments?" Iasked. "Cause I ain't so sure you got em the first time around."

She ignored me. "I had a dream last night. I woke up sweatin to death, and I remember every bit of it. There was a circle of candles and me sittin in the middle of em."

"Is this voodoo, Althea, cause if it is. . . ?"

"You're bad for interruptin somebody, you know that?"

"I'll hush." I took too big a sip and burned my tongue.

Althea looked around like she was about to tell a secret even though there wasn't a soul there but the two of us, sittin in my kitchen drinking coffee and gettin ready to be late for church.

She pushed her cup to one side so she could lean in across the table. "When I tried to step over the candles they flew up in the air like comets or something and disappeared, I mean poof." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "Then I saw a man with his shirt wide-open and muscles all up and down his chest and stomach. Fine lookin too. Standing in front of a big pond, no, a lake, big as Jordan Lake, and he was waving at me to come across with him, only there wasn't a boat or any other way to get across. Then he took a -couple of steps backwards with his pants rolled up, water lapping around his ankles. He kept on waving at me to come down there, and I thought to myself I don't even know you, you might be tryin to drown me."

I got up and ran some water in my empty cup, then set it in the sink. I would wash it later.

"Are you listenin to me?" Althea snapped.

"I told you I would hush, that's what I'm doin."

"Well I woke up, Lorraine, and I realized. That mighta been Moses I dreamed. Do you think it was Moses?"

"Hmm." I must have made a sound even though I didn't realize it.

"That's all you got to say?"

"Honey, what exactly's the revelation?"

"It's time for me to cross over, Lorraine. That's all I'm sayin."

"You gon die sometime soon?"

Althea shook her head and reached for her coat. "I don't know why I try to tell you anything. You don't have my kind of vision. Let's go to the car."

Me and Althea go way back. She helped me just about raise my daughter, much as anybody did besides my mama. That's how come she feels like she can act like a second mother to April. Some -people might not like another person tellin their child what to do, but I like it all right. Having to make all the rules all the time wasn't never my idea of a party. I'm grateful for the help. There's one thing about gettin somebody to help you though, you got to take whatever it looks like, their kind of help, and you can't be choosing what you like and don't like. Help is a take it or leave it kind of thing, and if you can't take it like it comes, might as well leave it cause it's gon be more trouble than it's worth. Or you're gon lose a friend in the process.

When April was little, we stayed at Mama's. She didn't have many rules in her house except for one, and I made it my rule too. No matter what else was goin on, we had to sit down and eat breakfast together every day unless one of us was sick, and I mean so sick you couldn't get yourself up out of the bed. Mama fixed food for me and April while I got ready to go to work. There was one morning, I remember cause I had just started my new job, I heard her call April in from her bedroom for about the third time. Breakfast was on the table, and knowing my daughter, she was probably readin something or other, still in the bed.

The Sweet By and By. Copyright © by Todd Johnson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Adriana Trigiani

“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.”

The women of The Sweet By and By have found a devoted muse in Todd Johnson. --Alice Walker

In this heartfelt and stunning debut novel, Todd 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. –-Adriana Trigiani

Kathryn Stockett

“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.”

Alice Walker

“The women of The Sweet By and By have found a devoted muse in Todd Johnson.”

Customer Reviews

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The Sweet By and By 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 54 reviews.
LCH47 More than 1 year ago
This one is a look at real life, a sensitive perspective through the distinctive voices of four Southern women, taking place entirely in a retirement home. This book is about what really matters. Former society women who reside there and a nurse and a beautician who work there, all of these women are imperfect human beings, flawed and endearing in their own ways, such is real life. The thoughtful, beautiful story unfolds as a series of vignettes, each told in the "first person" voice of one of the main characters. It's intense and rich with emotion, loaded with compassion and wisdom. We ALL want to be treated with dignity, kindness and understanding through all of life, especially when we survive long enough to have our roles changed from caregiver to the person needing to be cared for. It's as frustrating and humiliating for the receiver as it is for the giver. No one wants to depend on someone else to do everything for them. This shows us what the elderly can still offer us if we care enough to listen. The setting of a nursing home could have been a depressing place to write about, but the author explores love, compassion and friendship between the characters and opens our eyes to SEE BEYOND to realize there is still a complete, deep human being behind the frailty. The essence of all the characters was captured brilliantly and I recommend highly to all. Other books that excited me and opened my eyes, that completely changed the way I look at myself and the world are: SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT AS ME, EXPLOSION IN PARIS and THE HELP.
mareCA More than 1 year ago
I was excited when I saw this book. I'd not heard of this author and was interested in what he had to say his first time out and since I and my friends are getting older, this book had a particular interest to me. The characters are people that I know... The book lets you know how unlikely meetings can turn into lifetime friendships. Who would have thought that a young beautician could have love for women who are older and so different than she and I liked the way the author made the connection between her and Bernice for the readers. I totally related to Lorraine as a single parent (finally) and raising her daughter, with the help of her mother, who turns out to be very successful and a good mother, herself. I loved this book and I am taking it to one of my "Sweet By and By" friends this afternoon. This book will not disappoint.
MinnesotaReader More than 1 year ago
Todd Johnson has beautifully written a deeply touching story about the poignancy of growing old and the gift of unlikely friendships. In a North Carolina nursing home, two residents, bossy Margaret and addled Bernice, develop a life-changing friendship. Lovingly caring for them is their churchgoing nurse, Lorraine, and troubled hairdresser, Rhonda. These women, along with Lorraine's ambitious daughter, April, share their engaging stories in alternating chapters. Mr. Johnson is a truly talented storyteller who has eloquently captured both the essence of aging and the charm of southern women. He has brilliantly created a compelling story with endearing characters, who are each thoughtfully and beautifully portrayed. Narration through the voices of each character gives the story a deeper perspective of their lives and shared experiences. But most remarkable was his characters' depiction of compassion and patience. He demonstrates a valuable lesson for us all to be more loving and sensitive to the needs of others. I absolutely loved this wonderfully heartwarming story and I definitely recommended it for everyone!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"The Sweet By and By" reminded me some of "Steel Magnolias". In fact, I tried to picture who could play each part if it was ever made into a movie. I like the way it jumped ahead in years for each character instead of detailing everything that happened in their lives - just the high points and important parts. It was a very quick-read and most enjoyable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There are far too few enjoyable reads about getting very old. The author wove a story with deep insight into the complicated lives of elder women whose minds may be slipping a little (or a lot) but making them worthwhile, lovable people. I will read this again!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is right up there with The Help. I am a fussy reader and something has to catch me to get me to read the book. This had great ratings, so I took the plunge and I am so glad that I did. It is a sweet, sentimental, make you think type of book, with such wonderfully made up characters. I didn't want it to end. It will make you think twice when you see an old person, which we all become sooner or later.
harstan More than 1 year ago
At the Ridgecrest Nursing Center in rural North Carolina, life is repetitively dull everyday for the residents, who wait to die. However, two of them, steel magnolia Margaret Clayton and country music fan Bernice Stokes meet and becomes friends though the former is witty and the latter is incoherent for the most part. They become the dynamic duo nuking every rule. Their church-going nurse Lorraine watches over the pair closely while protecting them from any real trouble from the brass although she knows the devilish women enjoy stirring her juices. Lorraine's daughter April attends medical school, but relishes the antics of the two BFFs; as does Rhonda the beautician who does their hair on her off days. This is an entertaining character study of women bonding although they are from different walks of life and three generations. Rotating perspective between the fearsome five female friends, readers get to know each of the protagonists. Fans who appreciate a wonderful character driven saga that reminds readers what life is all about will relish a visit to Ridgecrest as The Sweet By and By is friendship. Harriet Klausner
WebsterAH More than 1 year ago
If you are one of those folks who finds themselves often underlining particularly good quotes form books you read then this book is for you. You could probably not even enjoy the story and still felt yo got you monies worth! That said this is a touch story filled with a lifetime few wisdom. The setting is a nursing home and the four main characters are believable It is particularly uplifting because it demonstrates that life lived in a nursing home doesn't need to be empty. What surprised me the most is that this book was written by a man. I still can't believe it. It is as if he got in a woman's brain. Though i would recommend this book to anyone who likes books that develop characters well, I would particularly recommend this to those who have older parents or relatives in a nursing home or those in the healthcare profession. I am sure they will find it particularly noteworthy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book club selection. Great discussion points. The characters jump off the pages into real life.
lukal More than 1 year ago
This is truly a unique book. I have never read anything like it. This gives one a better understanding of what life would be like in a nursing home. The characters are lovable.
Ann Munn More than 1 year ago
Amazing perspective by a man about women and their relationships. My new favorite book!
Caryl More than 1 year ago
I can't say enough about this book. The story, the characters, the writing - all terrific. You won't be disappointed!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must read for all. This book touched my heart so. One of my all-time favorites. After recently reading The Help, and Sarah's Key, I thought I wouldn't find a book I loved as much as those. I was pleasantly surprised!
SemperGumby More than 1 year ago
Todd Johnson is a genious. He has to be one of the best Southern writers out there. I loved the story line, the characters, the plot, the everything about this book. I got it from the library but I will purchase it to add it to my collection. It's a book you want to keep. Very hard to put down, you just want to keep reading so you can find out what happens next. :)
Jules3 More than 1 year ago
I would give this book 10 stars. It was so thought-provoking and full of wisdom. It was also funny at times and I feel like I have known all of these women at some time in my life. We should all be so fortunate.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So good I guess I wanted to read it twice because I ordered it and when I started reading it I realized I'd alread read it!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you want to read a book with sweet characters this one is for you. The main characters live or work at a nursing home. This book shows it is never too late to make friends. Sometimes the ones you meet later in life are the ones you need the most. Just an all around sweet book just like the title.
Marschajew More than 1 year ago
A wonderful story for the young and old.
whitreidtan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
tanya2009 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is about women who work or live in a nursing home. They share a special friednship but the book was rather slow without much excitement to hold the readers attention.
jo-jo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoy stories that give you a bit of Southern flair, and The Sweet By and By sure delivered! Each chapter in this story is narrated by one of the main characters in the novel, which gives us an opportunity to watch each woman grow in her own way. They become connected by the time they spend together in a nursing home, so a couple of the characters are elderly residents. Margaret is one of the residents that seems to be mentally intact but physically limited while everyone is sure that Bernice has lost her marbles.Johnson puts us right in the minds of these nursing home residents and helps us to realize what they may be feeling inside. To realize how frustrating it must be for these people who have always lived productive and healthy lives, only to be slowed down by age and weakness, can be humbling to us as readers because we will all be in the same boat some day....God willing! Lorraine is an LPN at the nursing home where both Margaret and Bernice reside. We find out bits and pieces of Lorraine's life, including some of the burdens that she has had to learn to live with. I think that the loss that Lorraine endured early in her life helped her to become the compassionate person that is needed to be a successful nurse that cares for the elderly. She devotes her life to the people she takes care of knowing that the time they will have together will be short-lived. It really takes a special person to open your heart to so many people knowing that your time together will not be as long as most relationships.I really enjoyed Rhonda's place in the story because she just kind of fell into her place as a hairdresser at the nursing home. I think that Rhonda planned on just trying out the job for a day and expected to not enjoy it, so she wasn't planning on returning. She found herself connecting with the residents and developed a special bond with both Margaret and Bernice. Since Rhonda was never able to develop a relationship with her own mother it was heart-warming to see her open up in this way to these women. I probably related to Rhonda the most considering that I lost my own mother when I was quite young, so I've had my own special ladies that I look up to in this fashion.My mother was an LPN herself at a local nursing home so I really was able to connect with this story. I've been walking in and out of nursing homes since I have been three years old and it is so important to remember that all of these people are individuals that helped bring your community to what it is today. My grandma has been in the nursing home since before Christmas and although we are hoping she will be coming home this month, we know the care that she does receive is excellent. My grandma loves to repeat her stories and this book reminded me that it is important to allow her to do that. I'm sure there is so much more that she wants to remember so it is important to allow her the freedom to share what does come to her mind.I really loved this story and the writing was written in such a way that came across as beautiful prose. I think it would also make a great book club selection and you can bet that I will be passing this one on to the gals in my group. With themes of love, aging, compassion and letting go, this book has a lot to offer beneath the surface.
spazaru on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I cried for days after reading this book. I was esp. moved by the character who carried around the little monkey, once I knew her "backstory." Oh it was heart-wrenchingly good!! Sad, funny, hopeful!
khiemstra631 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A delightful book about the not-so-delightful subject of growing old. The book follows the stories of two neighbors in a nursing home, Bernice and Margaret. Also included are a nurse, the nurse's daughter, and a hairdresser. Each narrates the book in turn. Parts of the book are laugh-out-loud funny while others are on the sadder side. It's a treat to read. Indulge.
porch_reader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This story is told from the perspective of five women. Margaret and Bernice are residents of a nursing home. Lorraine is an LPN who cares for the residents, and Rhonda does their hair. April, Lorraine's daughter, also contributes her voice a few times. For the most part, this is a sweet, well-told story, but it is a bit uneven. The chapters told from the perspective of Margaret and Bernice are wonderful! Johnson captures the thoughts and fears of these two women beautifully. Some of their stories are wickedly funny, others are bittersweet. When Bernice crawls into bed with Margaret one night when they neither one can sleep, I smiled and cried all at the same time. I also enjoyed Lorraine's part of the story. Anyone who cares for Bernice and Margaret with so much respect is someone to be admired. Throughout the book, Lorraine also grows older and eventually ends up being cared for by her daughter April. But Lorraine (and her friend Althea) never lose their spunk. The voices of the younger characters, Rhonda and April, didn't feel quite as distinct. These parts of the book told a nice story, but it was the perspectives of Bernice, Margaret, and Lorraine that felt unique and authentic.
asomers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a beautifully written book.The bonds of friendship, realities of aging, and family relationships are woven into this story so masterfully. I know that is sounds gender biased, but I am surprised that a man has written this story. Anyone that has an aging parent or grandparent to care for should read this book.