February 14, 2014

How to Love by Katie Cotugno

I felt so incredibly, unforgivably stupid, was the worst part- the lamest kind of stereotype, the dumbest kind of fool. I remembered that night outside the party at Allie's house, the pitying look on her sharp, familiar face: You definitely couldn't handle having sex with Sawyer LeGrande. I'd had sex with Sawyer, all right- I'd given him something I couldn't get back- and now he was done, game over, thanks for playing. It was gross. It was predictable.
-from How to Love by Katie Cotugno

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 Happy Valentine's Day! In honor of today, I think this book is absolutely perfect!

Katie Cotugno's debut novel, How to Love, is split into two periods of time: Before and After. "Before" chronicles studious and focused Reena Montero's school girl crush on Sawyer Le Grande, the less-focused son of her father's business partners. Although they grew up together, Sawyer doesn't show much interest in Reena until high school when they begin an emotionally messy romance distracting Reena from school and her life goals. When Sawyer disappears without any indication of where he went or when he'll be back, Reena must evaluate the consequences of her romance with Sawyer, consequences that include being pregnant at 15-years old. "After" takes place almost 3 years later when Sawyer returns. Reena must reconcile how Sawyer fits into her new life, if at all.

I admit that I decided I wanted to read this book before I had even read the synopsis because of the cute cover and sweet title; but then when I did read what this book was about, I was a little hesitant to read what I thought was simply going to be a story about teen pregnancy for the shock value of it. I'm so glad that I gave this book a chance anyway because it handles the subject of teen pregnancy respectfully and adequately. It's not centrally a book about a teen mom, it's centrally a book about love.

Initially I was so irritated that this book alternates chapters with the "Before" time period and the "After"; I figured it would just be split into two parts, clean and simple. But I quickly learned to trust Cotugno and the expert craftsmanship she put into this beautifully symmetrical blend of past and present. In reading Reena's life before Sawyer disappeared simultaneously with her life after his return, the reader is exposed to dramatic irony on multiple levels and the mixed emotions Reena experiences. Instead of compartmentalizing "Sawyer is a babe" and "Sawyer is a deadbeat dad", the reader gains insight into how Reena fell in love with him immediately after reading about her resentment for him when he returns to her and their 15-month old baby. The emotions are fresh and at times difficult to decipher because they are not black and white, giving the reader a similar experience as Reena. As the novel progresses, I was more and more impressed and fascinated by how "Before" and "After" chapters mimicked and complemented each other, setting this book apart from others in its genre.

Similarly, the use of two periods of time bring attention to who Reena is at different phases of her life and how she's changed. "Before," Reena isolates herself by taking no social action until she develops a relationship with Sawyer; "After," Reena's new role as a mother isolates her as a consequence of her actions. It took awhile before I appreciated the dichotomy. I also applied the theme of love to explicating Reena's metamorphosis and it helped me to appreciate Reena's growth even more. As always, I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll stop rambling; but rest assured, this book has plenty to talk about (and would make a great book club selection)!

In addition to great things to analyze, this book is strengthened by its strong metaphors and imagery. I especially loved the implementation of religion as it affects the characters. While I wouldn't call this a religious book by any means, Cotugno integrates enough spirituality to affect me in a positive way. Furthermore, the character dialogue was truly enjoyable; the emphasis of certain words helped me to hear the characters as clearly as if they were real people. I don't really have anything to complain about because all aspects of this book were solid and full of potential for meaningful discussions.

Bottom Line: Expertly-crafted, strong messages about love and identity, wonderful dialogue, and beautiful writing. Tip-top contemporary YA! Read this if you love contemporary YA and/or need a good love story for Valentine's Day! 5/5 Stars.


  1. This sounds really good!! I just worry that I'm never going to be able to get over the guy leaving her for 15 months with a baby. The reason for his exit would have to be something really big. So yeah I just worry that if Reena is going to forgive him, but I won't be able to and then I'll just hate them together and it'll make me hate the book. If that makes any sense?? I think the cover is super pretty.... love the blue/green!! Great Review!

  2. Oh wow, I've heard a lot of mixed things about this book and the boy, but your review makes it sound interesting. I'm not sure if it's a me book because pregnancy in general isn't my thing (but sometimes it's okay? it depends, ha) but maybe I will give this one a shot at some point! I am glad you enjoyed it. I've enjoyed all your 5 star, happy reviews!


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