I think this was one of the Goodread’s Reader’s Choice winners for 2020, and given that I love stories about alternate or parallel universes, the synopsis really caught my attention.
This book ended up being another 5-star read for me, and I found it absolutely phenomenal – magical even. So the story follows Nora Seed, who had hit rock bottom. She’s just gotten fired, her cat just died, she’s estranged from her family, she’s alone (she broke up with her fiancé two days before her wedding), and she’s consumed by regret over the opportunities she didn’t take and the decisions she didn’t make.
She then finds herself thrust into the “In-between” — a place that is between life and death — a place that looks different for everybody. For some, it’s a video store. But for Nora, it is a gigantic library being run by her old library from grade school, Mrs. Elm. But this is no ordinary library, but rather it’s a magical one. Mrs. Elm explains to her that every book contains different versions of her life — different possibilities. How many of us have wondered how our lives might have been different if we’d made certain decisions or didn’t make others.
For instance, what our lives would be like now if we’d just passed on by our current spouse instead of stopping to introduce ourselves. Or maybe what our life would be like if we pursued a dream of playing piano professionally or being a rockstar rather than going into accounting?
Well, Nora has the chance to find out. Each one of the limitless books in the library contains endless possibilities — how her life would have turned out if every one of her decisions had been different. All she has to do is touch a book, and she’s immediately living that life. She can leave any time she becomes disillusioned with that life, but if she finds the right one — a life in which she can be truly happy — she can stay. Of course, it will be up to her to decide exactly what it is that constitutes true or perfect happiness.
But what she does end up doing, is exploring many, many different lives, each with different possibilities and outcomes, and she comes to eye-opening realizations along the way. I loved watching her grow and observe how her beliefs and worldview changes as a result of her new experiences.
I just loved this book on so many levels. I’m guessing many of us have dreamed about a library like this — the ability to have a “do-over” for some of our decisions. This was such an emotional, hard-hitting read with so many important themes here.
This story is about regrets, mistakes, community, giving up, insecurities, unrealized plans, living other’s people’s dreams instead of yours, what-could-have-been, and depression. This is the kind of book that forces you to examine your own life and maybe even ask yourself some pretty hard questions. At least it did for me. It also makes you think about what you can do to live your life in the moment and not dwell on the past – maybe to live a more purposeful life.
One idea that really stuck out for me from this book was that just because a path or decision is different than the one you took, it doesn’t mean it would have been the right one or would have been easier. There was also the idea of the importance of the little things — how a missed cup of coffee with a stranger could change the trajectory of your entire life. So in this way, each big and little decision impacts who we are and what our lives will be like. I think there was a line in the book that went something like: “Never underestimate the big importance of small things.”
It made me wonder how many of us would try stepping into different versions of our lives to try until we find one that really fits. A chance to undo all of our regrets, to take all of those roads not taken. Tough question to answer.
When I finished this dazzling book, all I thought was: wow! It left me breathless, and I immediately declared it a new favorite. This is one of those authentic books that was heart-wrenching in some places and hopeful and heart-mending in others. I loved the short chapters resulting in quite a fast-paced narrative, I thought, though there is also kind of a race-against-the-clock as Nora only has a limited amount of time in the library before it’s gone forever.
This book was ultimately hopeful and uplifting with nuggets of universal truths generously sprinkled throughout, and I really could gush forever about this book. This is the type of story I am always longing to read. I’ll definitely be rereading it in the future — probably sooner rather than later and probably more than once.