Teen Book Review: Katie Cotugno’s ‘How to Love’

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It’s another review from our Teen columnist, Rani Lee! (Learn more about her and the Requiem writing contest here.) Most recently, she tackled Lauren Miller’s Parallel, and now she’s taking a stab at another YA book. See what she says about Katie Cotugno‘s How to Love



Book: How to Love

Author: Katie Cotugno
Reena and Sawyer fall in love. Sawyer disappears. Reena has a baby. Now, Sawyer is back. With everything that has happened, can the two fall in love again?

The Plot: 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?

What’s Hot: I love the format of the novel. The chapters alternate between Before and After, so readers follow Reena as she falls in love with Sawyer twice. The first time, she’s a high school student who has had a crush on him since childhood. The second time, she’s a teenage mother, scorned. What I liked about the format is that the chapters really complement each other. An argument that occurred Before might parallel the results After.

The idea is great as well. How to Love is a contemporary novel about two people who get a second shot at love, but there’s more to the story than just teen pregnancy and romance. Reena must also cope with death, disappointed parents, and her broken dreams. There is more than enough tension in this novel to keep you reading.

Cotugno’s characterizations are wonderful. Reena is sort of quirky and reserved. She’s not the girl who likes to go to parties or have wild nights. She’s more of a pizza-and-a-movie kind of girl. She is a little random with the outbursts and dead-set against forgiving Sawyer LeGrande. Sawyer is the cool, calm, and collected bad boy. Throughout the novel, he often proves to be the voice of reason when it comes to Reena.

The realism is strong and so is the voice. I was completely submerged in this story, and that brings me to what I liked most about the novel. Reena is a teenage mother. That comes with a lot of preconceived notions and also hardships. Cotugno does not glamorize teen pregnancy, nor does she completely flat-out condemn it. The novel follows a girl who made a mistake and is living with the consequences. One of my favorite scenes in the novel occurs in a shopping mall. Reena needs to try on jeans, but her daughter is being fussy and making it difficult. In the grand scheme of things, buying jeans isn’t that important, but I thought the scene served as a nice window into some of the many struggles Reena would face on a daily basis. I have a lot of respect for the reality of the scene and the novel as a whole.

What’s Not So Hot: I had a hard time finding something to critique about this novel. I like to write balanced reviews, but How to Love is one of those novels where there could have been changes made, but I’m not so sure that there needed to be.

I will say that I didn’t fully understand the significance of the title until the end of the book. Not a big deal, though.

Bottom Line: If you’re a person who likes contemporary fiction, you should read this novel. I think it has major crossover potential, meaning not just YA readers will enjoy it, and I really think people should give it a shot. How to Love is expected to debut October 1, 2013.

Rani Lee Meets Delirium Author Lauren Oliver!