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Renowned poet and activist Maya Angelou once said, “Try to live your life in a way that you will not regret years of useless virtue, and inertia, and timidity.”

Sage advice from a beloved and iconic writer, but difficult nonetheless.

We all have regrets in life. Decisions we have made that yielded negative outcomes, words we have uttered that caused someone pain and heartache.

We try not to dwell on these moments because of our awareness that doing so is futile.

Why dwell on things you cannot change?

But what if you could?

In “The Midnight Library,” New York Times bestselling author Matt Haig deftly explores the concepts of pain and regret and how far one will go to make amends.

We first meet Nora Seed, our protagonist, in a library. Nora and Mrs. Elm, the school librarian, are engrossed in a game of chess, while Nora’s peers aimlessly chase one another outside.

Even from a young age, we see that Nora is already frustrated when discussing her future. Nora echoes her father’s sentiment that she has thrown her future away after deciding to quit competitive swimming, a sentiment that Mrs. Elm vehemently disagrees with.

Mrs. Elm clearly sees Nora’s limitless potential and attempts to convey to Nora that her future can be whatever she makes it. Unfortunately, we do not make it far into the story before tragedy strikes, the first of many in Nora’s life.

The story cuts to Nora, now an adult, desperately trying to cope with all the curveballs life keeps throwing her way.

From layoffs to more devastating losses, Nora simply loses any desire to cope with life anymore. She leaves a handwritten note behind detailing the reasons for her final and tragic decision.

Nora’s story does not end there. She finds herself in a library of all places and quickly gauges that this is no ordinary library.

For one, the bookshelves seemingly continue on forever. Secondly, when she comes face to face with the librarian, she realizes that it is none other than Mrs. Elm, her caring school librarian.

Mrs. Elm explains that “between life and death there is a library” and how every book lets you glimpse another version of your life.

Mrs. Elm poses the question “Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?”

How can Nora refuse such an offer?

This is her chance to see how different her life could have been if she had cared to try.

In each book, Nora becomes a different version of herself: an Olympic medalist, an Arctic researcher, a wife and mother.

But then again, does different necessarily mean better? Which path will Nora choose in the end?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel. It is easy to see why “The Midnight Library” has maintained its high ranking on the New York Times Best Seller list for such a considerable amount of time. I recommend adding this title to your list of must-read books this year.

Salem Gebil works in the Adult Services Department at the Champaign Public Library.

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