Monday, September 30, 2013

Review: How to Love by Katie Cotugno

Review: How to Love by Katie Cotugno
Release date: October 1, 2013
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Series: No
Source: ARC gift from Lili
Rating: Conflicted.


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.

Rating: I am SO VERY CONFLICTED ABOUT THIS BOOK. Honestly, getting my thoughts in any kind of order seems to be impossibly. It's almost like I hated and loved this book in equal measure. In the end, I feel like the strengths of this book are so strong that they outweighed the negatives. The first half of this book is sensational. The second half made me mildly crabby.

In an effort to make my thoughts more orderly, I'm going to impose some order on this review.

I loved: The writing. How to Love is written in first person from Reena's POV, and Reena is sharp and funny and observant. It was really easy to slip into the story and feel everything she was feeling. She's got a really great voice. And the narrative technique used was really interesting. There were two story threads--the Before, when Reena is in high school and Sawyer LeGrande is there, and the After, two years later when Sawyer LeGrande returns. I was surprised by how completely invested I was in the story, reading it nearly straight thought. Before tells the story of Reena and Sawyer falling in love and coming together, while the After starts with Reena, who has accepted her new life, dealing with the fact that the prodigal Sawyer is back in her life. The Before and After style created tiny mysteries that linked up really nicely, with the present echoing the past in nicely heartbreaking ways.

I hated: Sawyer. Perhaps hate is a strong word. He's got a couple of swoony moments (loved Sawyer and Rina's talk on the swingset--I totally got the Sawyer Swoon there) , and I kind of understood him as a character. His parents expect a certain life out of him, a life he doesn't want to lead. He's not a bad guy, really, but he's utterly dysfunctional, and I thought it was pretty criminal the way he dragged Reena into his dysfunctionality. Sawyer is a couple of years older than Reena, and is the child of Reena's parents closest friends. They've grown up together, and Reena's been in love with him since nearly the beginning. (Why, beyond the fact that he's extraordinarily handsome, I'm not completely sure.) Then Saywer starts dating Reena's best friend, and for me, the Sawyer-appeal began to dissipate somewhat.

I loved: Reena. I totally got this girl. She is the Good Catholic Daughter, the high achiever, the one nobody thought in a million years would get pregnant. She plays it pretty close to the vest, which is something I can relate to, doing everything she can not to make her true feelings about things known. Her family has been magnificently unfair to her, but she loves her daughter, Hannah, with all her heart. Before Hannah, she wanted to be a travel writer and go to Northwestern and see the bigger world outside her small Florida town. This book immerses us really well in Reena's mind, showing us her true desires and feelings. And because of all that, I would have loved this book if it hadn't been for the next point.

I hated: Sawyer + Reena. It seemed like every single time Sayer and Reena interacted, he did something to hurt her. My particular favorite Sawyer moment was the first time they slept together (not a spoiler, they have a child), which happened to be the first time Reena had ever slept with anybody, and then Sawyer didn't call her. Or see her. For, like, three months. And then never apologized. He had other issues goes on, I got that, but I never thought Sawyer reached the right level of contrition for all the enormous harm he'd done to Reena (not just the pregancy thing. Admittedly, he didn't know Reena was pregnant when he took off, but he still took off). There's the time Sawyer pressures her to skip school. To betray her best friend. Let's not even mention what he does the night Reena gets into college.

I mean, I was basically rooting for girlfriend to

All of the really bad stuff is Before Sawyer. And Before Sawyer is not a healthy Sawyer. After Sawyer is way swoonier and way more put together, and I could have worked with this. I MUCH PREFERRED After Sawyer. I almost really, really liked him. But again... he didn't seem sorry enough! He just kind of waltzed back into town and was all offended that Reena was so mad at him. And I just wanted to scream "YOU ARE LUCKY YOU STILL HAVE ALL YOUR TOES, BUDDY, BE GRATEFUL FOR THAT."

Blegh. I'm sorry, guys. I just didn't feel this romance. Shelby, Reena's awesomesauce best friend, said it best that self-sufficient Reena forgets how "bad-ass" she is whenever Sayer, who done her wrong, turns his big emerald eyes on her. BLEGH.

I loved: Everything else. The narrative technique, the way Cotugno portrayed family dynamics, and the particular family dynamics of a high-achieving Catholic teenager getting pregnant at sixteen. Extra points for a loving stepmother, minus points for a mostly invisible brother, a bajillion points for Shelby the awesome-- if judgmental--lesbian best friend who tries to tell Reena to GET A GRIP. I loved the scene where Reena finally lets out all the feelings she's been keeping inside since she got pregnant, basically letting her father and Sawyer's parents have it (now if only she'd done this to Sawyer too).

Most people are really going to love this book. It has a lot going for it, and I will definitely read whatever Cotugno writes best. I truly loved her writing. But when you read a love story and can't truly invest in, well, the love story part, there's no way you can give that book all the stars. I'm pretty bummed about it. With a few tweaks, this could have been one of my favorite reads of the year. I was totally engrossed in it, and the characters were vivid, and it was equal parts funny and heartbreaking (even a tad melodramatic). I recommend giving it a shot, if only so we can have conversations about stomping on Sawyer LeGrande's feet.


  1. Heehee. It sounds like Sawyer REALLY needs his feet stomped on! I totally understand how this book could make you conflicted (based on your review). I hate when things like the sleeping together thing with no call happen in books... it's like one of the saddest things ever! It sounds like Reena was a really good character, though. I love getting into peoples' minds. Awesome review, girly! (:

    1. Yeah, it was really sad! And it didn't seem to me like Sawyer ever understood just how painful that can be for a person, and how much it hurt Reena. Guh. But yeah, Reena wasn't perfect, but I really liked her and symapthized with her.

      Thank you :)

  2. This book hasn't really been on my radar since I don't usually enjoy reading about teen pregnancy but your review has convinced me to give it a chance. I tend to enjoy books that are very love/hate.

    1. This book focuses on the lead up to the pregnancy, and then the after-effects of the pregnancy. Not so much baby-stuff, which is nice. But I'm glad you'll give it a try, even though it (clearly) left me totally conflicted. I seriously could not tell you if I love or hate this book!

  3. Uhm, yeah. I will NEVER EVER read this book. Not the kind of drama I would enjoy at all. I wouldn't be able to deal with the three years that passed :( Sigh. Or the asshole Sawyer. Thank you for being so honest, though. <3 Glad you somewhat enjoyed the book. Maybe. lol, I do love your review :)

  4. Thank you for a very honest review!
    I'll probably skip this one, I'm very selective with what contemporaries I read since I'm not a big fan, so I only got for those very highly recommended!

  5. "seems to be impossibly" <- Is this a cute word creation or a typo?

    WHOA, there's bestie backstabbing in this too? Ick.

    Lol, I love how you're like CHILL OUT GUYS NOT A SPOILER.

    Ugh, that Princess Diaries.

    "And Before Sawyer is not as healthy Sawyer." <- huh?

    But yeah, you should be BEGGING to be taken back. BEGGING. And she should still be like FUCK YOU, BUDDY. Only not literally because you do not deserve access to this vagina ANYMORE. Access privileges have been permanently REVOKED.


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