Reviewed by Samuel Redfearn, age 16

A Year to the Day by Robin Benway

It’s been exactly a year since Leo’s sister and closest friend, Nina, died. She can’t even remember the accident. They had been driving around with Nina’s boyfriend, East. She remembers singing along to “Time After Time”, Nina drinking her strawberry smoothie, East laughing with them both. After that, though, it’s all blank. Without Nina, Leo feels unmoored, unable to interact with people. The only one who understands is East. He was the only one who was there, and from the way he remembers Nina, the only one who loved her the way Leo did. As time goes on, though, Leo realizes that East remembers everything about the accident, but he won’t even tell her. Leo begins to question whether she can ever be happy without knowing the events of that night and whether happiness will ever be possible without her sister by her side.

The choice to tell Leo’s story in reverse chronological order, moving backward toward the accident rather than away from it, makes this book captivating. It also creates a natural flow for the story, as events escalate in emotional intensity the closer they get to the accident. Foreshadowing is easy to work in, with Leo often thinking about or discussing events that the reader has yet to experience. It does make the pacing of the story confusing, although this is mostly alleviated by the headings of each chapter, which inform the reader when and where the next event is taking place. The biggest issue with the story would be that often it is difficult to know whether the reader has missed a character introduction or plot element, or if that aspect of the book simply hasn’t been introduced yet. Because it’s told from Leo’s perspective, characters that Leo is familiar with at the beginning of the book become less well-known throughout, which makes the writing style convoluted at times. Piecing together Leo’s experience is extremely engrossing, though, with the emotional impact that is achieved here being almost palpable, and certainly worth the occasional confusing moment. Leo’s family are all well-developed characters, with her mother, father, and stepmother all feeling the loss of Nina in different ways. Since the story is told largely from Leo’s point of view, none of these characters’ feelings are ever fully revealed, which humanizes them and adds greatly to the atmosphere of the story. Anyone 13 and up who enjoys mysterious and engaging stories about family and remembrance would enjoy this book.

4 stars

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335 pages