The Sweet By and By [NOOK Book]

Overview

"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 ...

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The Sweet By and By

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Overview

"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.

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Editorial Reviews

Southern Living
This debut novel eloquently tells the story of five North Carolina women, and it is quite simply one of the most beautifully written books you'll ever read. The story plays like music in the heart. Descriptions promise a laugh. Beautifully crafted dialogue brings a quick catch in the throat. Strength fills this book, while reinforcing the love and respect Southerners hold for their mothers, grandmothers, friends, and daughters.
Real Simple
Read The Sweet By and By. In his debut novel, Todd 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. (Entertainment Picks)
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Packed with so much poignancy readers might want to keep tissues handy...this novel carries in it lessons of family, friends, kindness, generosity and love...heartfelt... [Johnson] 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. Packed with so much poignancy readers might want to keep tissues handy...this novel carries in it lessons of family, friends, kindness, generosity and love...heartfelt... [Johnson] 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.
Publishers Weekly

Johnson's bittersweet and often humorous hen-lit debut portrays the lives of five very different Southern women: compassionate Lorraine, bossy Margaret, grief-stricken Bernice, ambitious April and brusque Rhonda. At the center of this character-driven novel is Lorraine, a nurse at the nursing home where Margaret and Bernice live. As the three women drift into friendship, hairdresser Rhonda arrives to take a part-time job, and the older women begin to change her life. Lorraine's daughter, April, meanwhile, is also gradually drawn into the circle. The story unfolds slowly over decades and life milestones, giving the characters plenty of time to reveal themselves. Johnson has a sure ear for Southern speech, though the dialect can become tiresome, and the narrative's lack of plot makes the novel feel overlong. Nevertheless, 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. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Southern Living
This debut novel eloquently tells the story of five North Carolina women, and it is quite simply one of the most beautifully written books you'll ever read. The story plays like music in the heart. Descriptions promise a laugh. Beautifully crafted dialogue brings a quick catch in the throat. Strength fills this book, while reinforcing the love and respect Southerners hold for their mothers, grandmothers, friends, and daughters.
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Packed with so much poignancy readers might want to keep tissues handy...this novel carries in it lessons of family, friends, kindness, generosity and love...heartfelt... [Johnson] 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.
Real Simple (Entertainment Picks)
Read The Sweet By and By. In his debut novel, Todd 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.
Library Journal

You may feel like your Southern ladies lit shelf is crammed, but you'll want to save a place for this debut novel-essentially a hymn of praise for licensed practical nurses (LPNs). Set in an eastern North Carolina nursing home, the book follows Lorraine, an African American nurse; her daughter, April; Margaret and Bernice, elderly white patients; and Rhonda, a younger, white hairdresser who comes on Sundays. Moving back and forth in time, Johnson does a fine job of illustrating the rich inner lives of those imprisoned by failing mental or physical health. Although not without its flaws, the novel moves beyond stereotypes as Lorraine lives in loving service to those unable to do for themselves. Like so many Southern novels, strong women predominate, and good men seem scarce. One may wish to know more about Rhonda's and April's lives, but the irrepressible Bernice and her obsessive antics over a prized stuffed monkey compensate. Even with the conundrum of an abundance of good fiction and limited budgets, novels about everyday people like Lorraine are in short supply. Strongly recommended for popular and Southern fiction collections. [Johnson was a producer of the 2006 Broadway musical The Color Purple.-Ed.]
—Rebecca Kelm

Kirkus Reviews
Two nursing-home residents inspire their hairdresser and caregiver, in Broadway producer (The Color Purple) Johnson's often preachy first novel. Lorraine, an African-American practical nurse, suppresses traumatic memories of an abusive husband and the crib death of her firstborn by concentrating on creating a semblance of normalcy for her charges at Ridgecrest, a North Carolina nursing home. Lorraine's favorites are Margaret, who is struggling to maintain her faculties in this dementia-conducive setting, and Bernice, frankly and unapologetically gaga, accompanied always by her monkey doll, Mister Benny. Rhonda, painfully conscious of her poor white origins, does hair at Ridgecrest once a week, and, spurred on by Margaret, Lorraine and Bernice, gradually gains self-acceptance. April, Lorraine's daughter, has become a doctor, making her mother proud. The present arc takes us through various occasions at the nursing home-Christmas, Mother's Day, Fourth of July, etc.-where we see in action the ambivalence and anger of Margaret and Bernice toward the middle-aged children who have consigned them to Ridgecrest. In a scene that fails to deliver its tragicomic intent, Benny meets his end when he's tossed on a barbecue grill by a crotchety geezer. There's the obligatory escape sequence, wherein Margaret and Bernice slip out the back door at night and head for a local ice-cream parlor, then to Raleigh, where they spend the night in a hotel. After the adventure proves too much for Bernice (she passes away in her sleep in the hotel room), the story loses whatever impetus it had. Letters left behind, written by Bernice to her beloved younger son Wade after his death in a car crash, convincingly ifanticlimactically document her descent into madness. Extended meditations by the surviving principals (except Margaret, who thankfully retains her refreshing cynicism) on the Big Questions make for a predictable and lifeless denouement. Earnest, and funny in spots, but it too often sacrifices depth for wisecracks and original insights for cliches. Agent: Wendy Sherman/Wendy Sherman Associates
Real Simple
“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.”
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.”
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.”
Greensboro News & Record
“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.”
Las Vegas Review Journal
“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.”
Raleigh News & Observer
“Poignant.”
Winston-Salem 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.”
Birmingham News
“Nothing short of amazing . . . I had a whole new perspective on both living and dying after reading this stunning novel.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061853654
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/17/2009
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 125,005
  • File size: 708 KB

Meet 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.

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Read an Excerpt

The Sweet By and By

Chapter One

Lorraine

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.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 42 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(26)

4 Star

(7)

3 Star

(6)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 42 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 29, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    The essence behind the frailty.

    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.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 2, 2009

    What an experience -- the Sweet By and By -- we should all be so lucky!

    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.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    entertaining character study

    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

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 18, 2010

    This story touched my heart!

    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!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2009

    Very human interest

    "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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2009

    Delicious! The Sweet By and By

    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!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2010

    Loved this book!

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Keep a highlighter handy with this one!

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2009

    Excellent. Well written.

    This is an excellent book club selection. Great discussion points. The characters jump off the pages into real life.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Very Inciteful

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 22, 2011

    Loved this book!

    Amazing perspective by a man about women and their relationships. My new favorite book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 9, 2010

    Terrific book!

    I can't say enough about this book. The story, the characters, the writing - all terrific. You won't be disappointed!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2010

    A very touching story!

    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!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 25, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Absolutely Loved This Book!

    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. :)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    If I could...

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    Touching

    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!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2009

    The Sweet By and By

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2009

    GREAT READ

    A wonderful story for the young and old.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2011

    Recommended!

    This was our first selection for Book Club this year. My friends and I loved the story and each of us identified with a character. Very easy read.

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  • Posted June 17, 2011

    Cute & Endearing

    Cute and endearing story. Loved Margaret and her sassy personality, made me laugh despite her circumstance. Very sad sorry, but one that really makes you think about those in nursing homes, lives forgotten. Parts of the book were very slow, but the vivid characters made me want to continue on and finish their story.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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