I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.How To Love by Katie Cotugno
Published by Balzer + Bray on 10/1/2013
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult
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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.
\r\nAfter: 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?\r\n\r\nIn this breathtaking debut, Katie Cotugno weaves together the story of one couple falling in love—twice.
Never in my life have I finished a book that left me with goosebumps on my arms and tears in the corner of my eyes, until I read the last page of How To Love by Katie Cotugno.
How To Love is a heart-breaker – and heart-mender – of a story. It’s the kind of story where you fall in love with the characters; where their troubles, and their loves, and their lives, and each heartbreak, each measure of happiness becomes your own. How To Love shows the reader what it takes to love someone, and that love is not an easy path, nor that it should be, because love is worth the wait, the scars and the tears, when you find someone who makes you a better you, even if the path to a better you isn’t a straight one.
Sawyer LeGrande is the prodigal son/boyfriend with habitual drug problems, the boy every girl wants to either party with, or the boy every girl wants to save from himself, because he needs saving. He’s charming, and he’s not necessarily and asshole, but he’s put other things first in front of the people who care about him – the people he cares about, deeply.
Reena Montero is a beautiful, mixed-up character. Having been raised by her devout Catholic parents, she’s never gone against the grain: she’s sort of quiet, but a bit lemming-hater and she’s secretly witty. She’s also brilliant and doesn’t think enough of herself to know it. And yeah, she’s been in love with Sawyer LeGrande for pretty much her whole life, but she’s been too meek to do anything about it, other than gossip about him in the quiet way some girls do with her best friend Allie.
Reena has such a poetic nature that just broke my heart, because she struggled with her love of him, like she knew she shouldn’t, yet she did anyway:
The hideous thing is this: I want to forgive him. Even after everything, I do. A baby before my 17th birthday and a future as lonely as the surface of the moon and still the sight of him feels like a homecoming, like a song I used to know but somehow forgot.
Likewise, Sawyer seemed to struggle with his demons, like he knew everything he was doing wrong, but a guilt so large lived inside of him, eating its way out, until he couldn’t take it anymore. He wasn’t a jerk or mean or anything, it was just like he had all these issues within himself that needed to be unraveled before he could be that someone for Reena. Yet I knew he still loved her, even when he left. My heart broke, but I knew he still loved her with everything inside of him. He just didn’t love himself enough. And he needed to find that.
Both Reena and Sawyer were the kind of characters that made me feel like I left friends when I ended How To Love. Having begun in the Before’s as naive children, not aware of what love takes, the kind of sacrifices required of them, they both really grew throughout the novel. Especially Reena. We don’t get to see much of Sawyer’s growth (although it does get shared), since he left and the book starts with his return, and is told in Befores and Afters, but Reena’s growth is magnificent. She goes from a teenager idolizing a boy she’s always loved to someone who knows that no one and nothing is perfect – including love.
The story is one that just tugged at me. The stories of lost and found loves always do, so I might be the perfect demographic for How To Love, but watching them tumble into love, the first and the second time, was a rip in the gut, because it wasn’t perfect. The first time, because there was the obstacle of Reena’s father, their religion and her own insecurities, and Sawyer’s addictions, guilt and selfishness. The second time, because seeing them mend their hearts with each other, through their baby daughter Hannah was just beautiful. It also wasn’t perfect: Reena suffered from anger and her own guilt and she was damn justified in all of that, but god, I could tell Sawyer loved her and he wasn’t going anywhere this time.
I have to say that the way the book addresses the idea of people being imperfect is just spectacular. Reena’s family is Catholic, Sawyer’s family is Catholic, and their upbringing reflects that. So how did they go from such a supposed Godly way of life to making a baby as teenagers? I mean, it happens, but what was the fallout from that? What happened that was so bad that Sawyer turned to drugs to dull his pains? Katie Cotugno addresses all of this with finesse and grace, her characters realistically dealing with their problems the way I can see it actually happening. I mean, life isn’t perfect and nothing is absolute, right?
What I learned from How To Love: sometimes the path two people take with each other is not the same path.
How To Love by Katie Cotugno was so incredibly perfect, that this review was nearly impossible to write. I feel like I am a better person for having read this novel. It is simply one of the best books I’ve ever read and is now one of my favorites.