Leo’s older sister, Nina, died 365 days ago. National Book Award winner Robin Benway’s A Year to the Day opens on the one-year anniversary of Nina’s death, and each chapter takes the reader one step further back in time.
From the moment Leo regains consciousness after the car crash, she struggles with grief—not only for the loss of her sister also but for the memories of the night that she can’t quite grasp. Leo’s first year without Nina is marked by changes, as the accident impacts her friendships, her family and her relationship with Nina’s boyfriend, East. Leo must find a way to live without her sister, and she slowly learns to navigate her sorrow—and to love again, despite it.
The unconventional narrative structure in A Year to the Day reflects the connection between memory and mourning: The story that unfolds for the reader is comprised of confusing, intertwining moments, just like the memories Leo longs to recover. The novel’s structure also conveys the tension and mystery of grief. While the fact of Nina’s death is established in the book’s very first sentence, the novel unveils the details of its circumstances and the year that follows slowly, and every chapter contains a new revelation.
Benway’s unflinching, close third-person narration fluctuates between wistfully poetic and painfully direct as Leo comes to terms with her true thoughts and feelings. Benway expertly captures how Leo is shaped by the people in her life during big moments, like funerals and anniversaries, but she also poignantly portrays smaller moments. Songs transport Leo back in time, the scent of Nina’s shampoo makes Leo’s heart shatter anew, and looking through the photos on Nina’s old phone with their mom leaves Leo breathless.
A Year to the Day is simultaneously gut-wrenching and heartening, as grief and love so often are. Its unusual structure effectively relates a timeless story in a new and engaging way as Benway offers beautiful, profound reflections on loss, healing and forgiveness. Ultimately, Leo’s story is a lesson in self-compassion and hope, reminding readers that moving forward doesn’t mean forgetting the past, and although love can be painful, it’s worth holding on to.