What makes a good novel? The answer varies between readers, and even in the same reader at different times of their life. For me, now, what I look for is empathy. I want to feel a connection with the inhabitants of a written world, feel invested in the story and the outcome. Nothing makes me love a book more than looking up after hours engaged and having to separate myself from this world another has created.
This novel did exactly that; it took me to a place far from home and engaged me in the hopes and lives of people who don't exist. The realism of the story brings you in bit by bit until you feel for the the inhabitants of this world, you understand their motives and aspirations, root for and pity them in turn. Each charecter is fully realized; there are no angels or demons but flawed people all trying to do what they think is best. The writing style is poetic and often lyrical, always drawing the reader further in until the last sentence when you feel that momentary sadness as you look into the following pages and realize there is no more reading to be had. Summarily evicted you will look online for a sequel (spoiler: there is no sequel yet) and just have to live with that fact.
Beyond the plot big ideas in this story; ideas about love, commitent, family, parenting, poverty, class and work. These ideas though are placed in context of a realistic life and so rather than seeming preachy or overbearing the author creates a place where the reader can think about them freely. While I read the book breathlessly for the story it had given me a lot to think about afterwards.