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Elizabeth Strout’s second novel, Abide with Me, was released in 2007. I recently finished listening to the audio version of this gem. It’s often eclipsed by the author’s third book, Olive Kitteridge, for which she received a Pulitzer. Here are my top ten reasons to read or listen to Abide with Me.

10.  Strout masterfully uses the weather and seasons to enhance the mood of characters and of West Annett where they live.

9.   The Maine town in 1959 is accurate from the paste used by kindergarteners to the acceptance of smoking, from the bomb shelters in back yards to World War 2 vets burying their trauma.

8.   She paints a vulnerable and painful picture of humanity: small town church life, complete with broken people trying to hide their brokenness by gossiping about the brokenness of others.

7.   The climate of the elementary school and the attitudes of the teachers are spot on. As a former teacher I appreciated the teachers wearing high heels, dresses, and nylon stockings during playground duty on cold fall days–something my mom complained about during her teaching career in the 1950s and 60s.

6.   Five-year-old Katherine is an authentic and complex character. Her confused thoughts, guilt, fear, and loneliness are portrayed with compassion, but without sentimentality.

5.   One of the characters confesses to something totally unexpected and believable.

4.    Lauren Caskey, the pastor’s wife, is not a normal pastor’s wife. Strout only hints about the source of her brokenness, enough to make readers curious and yet willing to grant her grace.

3.    Tyler Caskey, the young minister, isn’t portrayed as either sanctimonious or saccharinely sweet. When he goes through his faith crisis, he is like you and me, not like a minister. He can barely hang on, barely function, barely see beyond himself. He is disillusioned by the cruelty and foolishness of people and himself. He is saved by the actions of people who, in their weakness, display the kindness and forgiveness of Christ.

2.     Abide with Me demonstrates the power of and need for forgiveness on many levels in many lives.

1.    Abide with Me is a story of redemption and hope. Our world is in sore need of both.

Have you read Abide with Me? Please, share your thoughts in the comment box.