Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Olive Kitteridge,” is perhaps my favorite book, and I looked forward to Olive, Again,” with both anticipation and dread. Never fear! Olive is back and brilliantly so, still the same complicated, frustrating, practical character who is often lonely and at times kind and comforting.

It isn’t necessary to read “Olive Kitteridge” first to enjoy this book, but so many characters return in “Olive, Again” that one should.

Second chances are a theme here: Olive and Jack’s second chance comes with its challenges, as does Olive’s son and his family’s visit back to Crosby, Maine.

Strout is deeply talented at using ordinary life to explore the universal — love, fear and hope. It’s a novel about resiliency and compassion, about the human experience in all of its painful loss and small joys. For example, after Olive’s heart attack leads to pneumonia, in the hospital she notices her doctor’s smooth hands and his dark eyes behind thick glasses. “Hold my hand,” Olive says to her doctor. “I like it when you hold my hand.”

PAIGE RIEHL, St. Paul

 What’s on your bedside table? Write us at books@startribune.com and we’ll use your recommendations in a future column. Please include name and city.