Title: How to Love
Author: Katie Cotugno
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: 10-1-13
Genre: New Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Source: ARC kindly provided in exchange for honest review
This is a love story. But it’s not what you think. This is not a first kiss, or a first date. This is not love at first sight. This is a boy and a girl falling in messy, unpredictable, thrilling love. This is the complicated route to happiness that follows. This is real. This is life. This is how to love.
BEFORE: Reena has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember. But he’s never noticed her, until one day… he does. They fall in messy, complicated love. But then Sawyer disappears from their humid Florida town, leaving a devastated – and pregnant – Reena behind.
AFTER: Three years later and there’s a new love in Reena’s life: her daughter Hannah. But just as swiftly and suddenly as he disappeared, Sawyer turns up again. After everything that’s happened, can Reena really let herself love Sawyer again?
“I’ve been looking for Sawyer for half a lifetime when I find him standing in front of the Slurpee machine at the 7-Eleven on Federal Highway, gazing through the window at the frozen, neon-bright churning like he’s expecting the mysteries of the universe to be revealed to him from inside.”
How to Love is a cute well-written story with relatable characters, but left me wanting a little bit more.
For some reason, I had it in my head that this was going to be an adult fiction novel because I thought that the main characters were going to be older, but I’d actually classify it as New Adult. The chapters switch back and forth from “before,” which tells the story of sixteen-year-old Reena and how she came to be pregnant, and “after,” which is told from the perspective of eighteen-year-old Reena who has to deal with the consequences of those actions. While sex is mentioned in the novel, it’s never explicit, but the characters are dealing with mature problems and they’re college-age, so I’d definitely still categorize it as New Adult.
Right from the beginning, I immediately connected with Reena’s character. She’s the shy, quiet type, who isn’t really interested in partying or hanging out with a bunch of friends and basically is only focused on achieving her goal of attending Northwestern and becoming a nonfiction travel writer. But tragedy strikes when she becomes pregnant at 16 and has to give up her dream to stay home and take care of the baby. While I can’t relate with the teenage pregnancy aspect of this novel, I really related to Reena’s reserved personality and how she really struggled with having made this huge mistake that didn’t seem to add up with the type of person she viewed herself as. I liked how the novel focused on that idea of how, even if you spend your whole life trying to be perfect, one little mistake really can ruin a lot of things for you. That’s an important lesson for young adults to learn. But it also did a good job of showing how, even in the face of that mistake, Reena was able to remain true to herself and eventually pick up the pieces.
Having said that, though, I didn’t think that How to Love did a great job accurately portraying what it’s like to be a teen mother. Yes, Serena does suffer some consequences from getting knocked up at 16, but mostly her life doesn’t seem too bad. Her parents support her, let her live in their house, she has a live-in babysitter, a full-time job, and has enough money left over to go out for lunch once a week with her best friend. The whole thing just seemed a little too hunky-dory for me. As if the baby was nothing more than a plot device, because all she was there to do was cause relationship drama not actually affect Serena’s life too much in the long run.
I also didn’t really quite believe the connection between Serena and Sawyer. It felt like this book was trying to tell this epic love story that spanned years, but I wasn’t sold on the relationship between the two of them. I didn’t feel sparks or chemistry when they interacted, and had a tough time understanding how Serena was able to put up with so much of his crap. I found the “after” sections of their relationship a bit more believable, considering that they have a child and are connected as some type of a “family” in that way, but I still didn’t really “get” it. I wasn’t caught up in their love, and that was a disappointment, because that was pretty much the entire plot of the story.
The part I did enjoy reading about was the sort-of love triangle relationship between Serena, Allie, and Sawyer. Those sections were really interesting to me, and I wish that the book had focused more on that dynamic, because I was very intrigued. Ultimately, this book was well-written and had interesting, real characters, but failed to engage me in the way a love story like this should’ve. If a book is 90% focused on the romantic aspects, I really want to be able to believe in that romance, but in this case, I just didn’t.