Dear Abby probably never did heroin. But if she had, no one would have known. Until now, that was the problem with advice columnists: They were supposed to help you solve your problems, but they didn't reveal much about their own lives, so it was hard to understand why you should trust them. Cheryl Strayed, author of the memoir Wild, changed all that with Dear Sugar, a deeply personal advice column that's earned a devoted following online. (The pieces collected in Tiny Beautiful Things were originally published on therumpus.net.) When a reader sends in what seems like a throwaway letter ''Dear Sugar: WTF? WTF? WTF? I'm asking this question as it applies to everything every day'' Strayed responds by telling her own story, confessing that she was sexually abused as a kid, which made her ask WTF? all the time. Then she delivers some tough love, very gently. ''Ask better questions, sweet pea,'' she writes. ''The f--- is your life. Answer it.''
That's a humdinger of a reply, and this beautifully written book is filled with them. To a man who's struggling with his wife's drug addiction: ''...the thing about rising is we have to continue upward; the thing about going beyond is we have to keep going.'' To a kleptomaniac who wants to make amends: ''Forgiveness doesn't just sit there like a pretty boy in a bar. Forgiveness is the old fat guy you have to haul up the hill.'' To the fan who asks Strayed for the advice she'd give her twentysomething self: ''Be brave enough to break your own heart.'' She proves real connection is still possible, even on the Internet, where everyone's shouting to be heard. There's a lesson in here for everyone, sweet peas. You just have to find yours. A