What a wonderful reading experience this book gave me. On the Right Side of a Dream by Sheila Williams is the uplifting story of Juanita Lewis, a middle-aged African American woman on a journey to find herself. She's got three grown kids, and one day she decides she’s tired of living her life for others. It’s now her turn. She moves out of her home in Columbus, Ohio, and after some travelling ends up moving to a small town called Paper Moon, Montana.
What a change of pace for her! But she falls in love with the landscape (beautifully described, too) as well as with the people. Juanita meets the love of her life, Jess, who runs a diner in that small town, and she ends up helping him cook, since it’s her favorite thing to do. She also makes a lot of new friends, including Millie Tilson, an eccentric feisty old woman who has lived life to the fullest, and her new best friend Peaches, a lesbian truck driver, whose partner's name is Stacy.
Peaches drives all over the western United States, and for one trip she takes Juanita with her to California, where they meet a famous chef (and good friend of Jess) who introduces Juanita to fine dining - and plants a bug in her head to go to culinary school. From California, Juanita and Peaches proceed to Arizona and end up in Sedona, where Juanita meets a new-age type of woman named Nina who needs a business partner to help run her bed and breakfast. Juanita stays here for a bit, enjoying the atmosphere and learning to cook all sorts of fancy dishes, until she gets wind that Millie has died. Juanita finally returns to Paper Moon to attend the funeral.
It is back in Paper Moon that her life really changes. She learns that Millie has willed to Juanita her Bed and Breakfast Inn, but unfortunately Millie's estranged son is contesting the will. Juanita is determined to keep the Bed and Breakfast, because she is afraid that the son is going to tear it down and turn it into a parking lot. This is all that is left of Millie, and it represents a lifetime of living. Juanita refuses to let her son destroy Millie’s legacy.
But Juanita isn't sure she can fight the son and win; he is a multi-millionaire who hates his mother, a woman he hardly knew, with a passion. With the help of her friends, and a ghost who resides on Millie’s property, Juanita thinks she has a chance to beat Millie’s angry son, Mr. Hayward-Smith, at his game, and maybe even make him understand what his mother was all about. While she’s working on keeping Millie’s legacy alive, her grown children are also giving her a few headaches. It’s the life that she has tried to escape, but never will.
Throughout the novel, Juanita's love of the land is evident as she narrates and beautifully describes the landscape wherever she happens to be – the California Coast, the deserts of Arizona, or the beauty of the Montana plains. The reader can feel her love of life in her narrative, told in the first person, and the tone of the book is that of a friend telling her life story to another. While this wasn't the perfect book, having found the first part of the book where Juanita is traveling with Peaches in her big rig truck a bit uneven, I am glad I discovered this author. There is something special about the writing of Sheila Williams that stands out. I definitely want to read her first book, Dancing on the Edge of the Roof, and look forward to Williams’ future novels.