Friday, October 4, 2013

Review: How to Love by Katie Cotugno

Friday, October 4, 2013 with 9 comments
Title: How to Love
Author: Katie Cotugno
Series: n/a
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: October 1, 2013
Source: ARC received from publisher
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Audible

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Before: Reena Montero has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember: as natural as breathing, as endless as time. But he’s never seemed to notice that Reena even exists…until one day, impossibly, he does. Reena and Sawyer fall in messy, complicated love. But then Sawyer disappears from their humid Florida town without a word, leaving a devastated—and pregnant—Reena behind.

After: Almost three years have passed, and there’s a new love in Reena’s life: her daughter, Hannah. Reena’s gotten used to being without Sawyer, and she’s finally getting the hang of this strange, unexpected life. But just as swiftly and suddenly as he disappeared, Sawyer turns up again. Reena doesn’t want anything to do with him, though she’d be lying if she said Sawyer’s being back wasn’t stirring something in her. After everything that’s happened, can Reena really let herself love Sawyer LeGrande again?

In this breathtaking debut, Katie Cotugno weaves together the story of one couple falling in love—twice.

Love is complicated.  And I don't think I've ever read a young adult novel that conveyed that so poignantly as How to Love. This book isn't the sweet contemporary romance that I was expecting.  I suspect that the realistic and genuine feeling of this novel has a lot to do with the author's age and own experiences, and it's all the better for it.

This novel is told using the "before and after" method, flashing back to when Reena and Sawyer first became involved and bringing the story round to where they are in life now.  I listened to another set of novels recently that employed this technique as well, and in each case, the story became mesmerizing to me as details were sparingly revealed in the now and then.  I love the fact that using this technique means that it's nearly the end of the book before everything unfolds and the reader truly knows what happened.  I'm actually overjoyed when I don't have everything figured out halfway through the novel.  That's not to say that there was all that much to discover between Reena and Sawyer, but I think it was entirely necessary to include their past in order to really understand the people they are now.  This is a very character-driven story, but it never impresses an opinion of the characters on're free to decide on your own.  I still don't know if I really liked them or not, but I loved the story.

Despite being in love with her best friend's boyfriend, Reena had her life figured out.  She was going to graduate early and start college while the rest of her classmates were just beginning their senior year of high school.  She was going to be a travel writer, exploring the world and seeing everything life had to offer.  But then Sawyer showed an interest in her. Reena didn't plan for him to come between her and her dreams...she fully intended on still following through with her plans to leave Florida and start her life.  But that was before she found out she was pregnant...before Sawyer left town and didn't return for nearly three years.

So, Reena adjusted her plans.  She adapted and although she loves her baby girl and has a great boyfriend and is managing while still living at home, she's restless.  I felt like Reena's character was one of the most honest and genuine protagonists I've encountered in YA.  Her love, her frustration and her confusion all made me reminiscent of that time in my life:  when you're on the cusp of ending your time at home and being someone else's responsibility to taking charge of your own life and making your own decisions.  Reena doesn't always have the best judgment, but neither did I at that age.

Obviously, when Sawyer hits town again, his presence throws her emotions into a whirlwind.  He's always had that affect on her.  I wanted to hate this guy so much, and I did for awhile.  Even after he came back into the picture, it seemed that he was his former cocky self and that his only intention was to cause trouble.  But then I saw him with Hannah, saw how much he was trying this time around.  And I felt my heart melt a little. But then I saw how Reena was letting her feelings sway her again, how she was ending a good, sure thing for this tumultuous thing she has with Sawyer, and I wanted to shake her.  But the heart wants what the heart wants.

Love is a fickle beast.  It makes you do crazy things.  Things that you otherwise know better than to do.  If you let it, it can destroy you.  I'm ecstatic that the author portrayed it as such, not just the easy breezy romantic bliss that it can be.  How to Love isn't just the story of two people falling in love twice.  It's a gritty tale of two people trying to overcome obstacles in order to reclaim what they once had and to follow through on the "what might have been".  It's about first love and all the mistakes that come with it.  It's about forgiveness.  And it was just what I wanted to read.

About the author:

Katie Cotugno went to Catholic school for thirteen years which makes her, as an adult, both extremely superstitious and prone to crushes on boys wearing blazers. She routinely finds herself talking about the romantic endeavors of characters on TV shows as if they actually exist in the world.

Katie is a Pushcart Prize nominee whose work has appeared in The Broadkill Review, The Apalachee Review, and Argestes, as well as on Her first novel, HOW TO LOVE, is due out from Balzer + Bray on October 1st, 2013.

The great loves of Katie's life include child's pose, her little sister, and mozzarella and honey sandwiches. She lives in Boston (and in sin) with her boyfriend, Tom.

Find Katie:

Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Tumblr


  1. I have heard so many wonderful things about this book. I can't wait to get my hands on it. I like a story that isn't just fluffy and sweet.. although those are nice at times... the nitty gritty is really good. thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for the review. I'm not much on the cutsie romances either. Think I'll check this one out!

  3. I like your vivid description of the story that tells me what to expect when I read it. Thanks for sharing your review.

  4. I had such complicated feelings for this book -- which is a good thing. It would make a great pick for a book group because I think people will have varied reactions to the characters … and the ending.
    Jen @ YA Romantics

  5. Absolutely adore your review. I'm even more interested now! I love the fact that the author tells this "love story" in a different way in which it's not JUST two people finding each other twice. Also, I love your gifs. Yay for dogs and Jennifer Lawrence!

  6. I haven't heard of this book before.. at least I don't think I have.. I probably added it to my goodreads a while back and I just don't even know. lol. This sound really good though. I love when YA can be real and shit.. None of this " love is roses " Love is messy, especially when youre young.... or.... [ insert dirty though that won't post lol ]

    Anyhoo, that gif of the dog was wigging me out.. when it all blinks out, I was reading and my left eye was like, " hey!!! a strobe light! "

    plus I fell bad for the poor guy. It's just not right to tease with cupcakes. :/

  7. I'm not really a fan of the "before and after" technique, but I can totally understand the benefits that reading a book like that can have for readers. I don't go out of my way to read books about teenage pregnancy, but this does sound like it's about so much more than that. I do appreciate books that aren't just sweet contemporary romances, but I'm not sure if that will surpass my dislike of pregnancy books. Your review is very convincing, however. I'll have to do a little research!

  8. THis is a lovely review, Jen! I loved this one as well. I know many people didn't care for Sawyer, but I'm glad that he was messy and real. This book was so well written and definitely made a big impact on me too.


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