I will preface this, in an attempt at full disclosure, by admitting I am a fan of Elizabeth Strout. I heard her speak at our library lunch after Olive Kittredge came out, and at the time I was not sure if she would be able to top the success of that book. At the event, I grabbed copies of Amy & Isabelle and Abide with Me, which I greedily read not long after. There is something soothing and almost intoxicating about Strout's writing; she draws you in effortlessly, lulls you into complacency, and then shatters it all with a painful reality you might not have even imagined. Her characters are, at first glance, nondescript, often eking out a meager existence; but in her caring hands, they are stalwart, earnest, and beautiful. When Lucy Barton reappeared in this book, it was like catching up with an old friend, and I'm sure I judged her siblings harshly because I defended her. And that is the heart of it, really. I care about these characters. Strout pulls away the curtain, and we see what makes these people tick; we care about them because she makes us care, her words inspire empathy. And, given the state of things around here right now, we could all use a little more of that.