cover image SWEET BY AND BY


Patricia Hermes, . . HarperCollins, $15.99 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-380-97452-8

The inspiration for the title of Hermes's (Heads, I Win) heart-tugging novel, set during WWII, comes from the 11-year-old narrator's favorite song: "In the sweet by and by,/ we will meet on that beautiful shore." Blessing has been raised by her grandmother, Monnie, in their Tennessee mountain home; her father and grandfather died in a mine accident before she was born, and her mother passed away when she was two. Now Monnie's heart is failing and she is rarely strong enough to play the fiddle that she and Blessing love so much. Hermes insightfully portrays Blessing's pervasive fear of her beloved grandmother's impending death. Monnie has spoken to different mountain families about taking in Blessing, and leaves it to Blessing to choose where she will live; all of them are warm if off-center (one set of adults communes with animals, another has a "half-baby, half-child" named Child whom Blessing thinks "is so creepy," etc.). As Monnie forces discussions of Blessing's future, Blessing thinks, "That didn't mean I had to let her words get inside of me. I began making music in my head, a busy bee-like kind of humming to shut out the bad things she was saying." As Monnie weakens, Blessing beseeches God to save her grandmother: "All around us were miracles, the flowers, the snow, the mountain, babies being born…. I just needed one more, my very own. Maybe He would do it, give me the one thing I really, really needed." A gracefully composed story of love, loss and courage. Ages 8-12. (Nov.)