CW: suicide, suicidal ideation
This was an interesting premise but has some deep (spoiler-y) flaws in the magical element that make it hard to get behind it from an entirely logical perspective.
The not-spoiler part (available as part of book’s blurb): sometimes, instead of dying, you end up in a midway point which, for our protagonist, takes the form of an endless library in which it is always midnight and which is librarian’d by her old middle school librarian. You can read any of the book and explore lives you could have had, if you’d done one (or a few) things differently. It’s a way to exorcise regret of the what ifs. What if I’d gone to a different school? What if I’d married a different person? What if I’d come first in that qualifying sportsing sport?
So, yes, it’s essentially “It’s a Wonderful Life” but in book format/with books.
Now, to spoiler:
The issue is that the fundamental premise is seriously flawed. Every time Nora goes into a new life, she’s dropped in with full memory of the fact that she is Nora-of-the-root-life, a sort of invasion of the body snatchers type situation. She has no idea what’s what in any life, no memory of her past experiences (until, of course, she starts to get into the life in spite of being, for all intents and purposes, a stranger to it. Suddenly bits and pieces start coming back to her, and her memories of the library will eventually fade).
Imagine that, if you will. You’re given a chance to have a different life, but you have literally NO idea anything that’s happened in the past 15 years. You wished you went to medical school? Sure, you did! You became a surgeon. And now you’re a 40-year old surgeon, with another 20 years of life ahead of you and you have no idea how to do surgery, nor the name of your spouse, kids, or dog, and every time a friend of yours references a shared memory you have a blank look on your face.
It removes a lot of the dramatic tension. Of course none of the lives will appeal to Nora, she’s invasion of the body snatchers’d her way into each one.
And then, to talk about each of the lives–she’s always plunged into the most extreme fix-its of the regrets she picks out. She wishes she hadn’t given up swimming at pre-Olympic levels? Instead of examining a life where, dunno, she kept up with competitive swimming but went for collegiate level instead of Olympic level (and with it, explored some of the attendant benefits like having a goal, being part of a team, success as a result of hard work and talent) she goes straight to a life where she’s a burnt out shell, a retired-at-28 Olympian who recently had a mental breakdown, whose parents divorced because her father had an affair with a fellow swim parent (which, I would note, is not her fault), and whose brother is an agent/manager (a career painted as soulless and money-obsessed compared to his true love of music). Instead of exploring a life where she pursued glaciology or a related environmental science, she jumps straight to one where she’s voluntarily chosen to to live on an isolated Arctic boat for months on end and doesn’t have strong interpersonal connections. Even her life in Australia with her best friend has said friend die within a month of arrival!
So all in all the alternatives are bad ones to begin with, and then you add on top the non-starter of being an alien in your own life. Not that you couldn’t see the ending coming with a book like this, but it makes the entire story a bit of a drag without the tension.