Review: How to Love by Katie Cotugno

Title:  How to Love
Author:  Katie Cotugno
Series:  None
Publisher:  Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins
Publication Date:  October 1, 2013
Pages:  389
Format/Source:  Hardback/Purchased
Age Group/Genre:  Young Adult/Contemporary, Romance

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? (Cover and synopsis from Goodreads.)

A Fresh YA Novel…

How to Love is definitely a new and different YA novel, at least for me.  I don’t think I’ve read any YA novels that have to do with the main character having a kid, and while I’m sure there are YA books that deal with that subject out there, it still seems like How to Love is kind of a fresh take on the subject.  In the past year or so I’ve grown to really enjoy more YA contemporary novels, as long as they have more substance to them than just a romance.  Which, luckily, with the quality of writing these days in YA, pretty much all YA has quite a bit of substance.  So while this story is primarily about two teens who fall in and out of love and back in again, it definitely deals with a lot of other aspects, such as loss and addiction and family, as well as teen pregnancy.

A Few Hiccups…

However, this book kind of reminded me of a lot of television shows in the way that yes, there is a baby present in the story, but so much of the story revolved around the other characters that at times, I was thinking to myself, “Where is the baby?”  I get like that with TV shows a lot.  A couple has a baby but the baby is hardly ever in the show and I’m like, “Where is your baby??? Is it with a babysitter ALL THE TIME?”  Yes, Reena’s baby is mentioned quite a bit in the story, but there only a few scenes where we actually see the baby.  I feel like maybe some of the issues with being a teen mother could have been delved into even deeper if we had seen the baby even more within the story.

And the chapters alternate between “Before” (before Sawyer left her and before she had her baby) and “After” (a couple years later and Sawyer has returned).  These kinds of alternating chapters don’t normally bother me too much, but I did find myself having to go back to the beginning of the chapter sometimes to remind myself if it was a “Before” chapter or an “After” chapter. I’d be like, “Okay, this is a ‘Before’ chapter, so she doesn’t have her baby yet.”  And because the story focused so much on Reena thinking about Sawyer or talking to Sawyer or seeing him at the restaurant that both their families own, it was hard to discern if I was reading a “Before” or “After” chapter, because those scenes technically could apply to either one.  And to me, as a reader, not only is that kind of thing confusing, but it’s also too much work for me to have to go back and figure out which type of chapter I’m reading all the time.

But Some Great Moments…

But I did really enjoy the book for the most part.  I got pulled into the story right away.  I loved Reena’s friend Shelby, as well as a lot of the other characters.  And I LOVED the format of Reena’s college application essay. That was so clever and I really wish I could actually read that essay!

And one, very subjective thing that I really loved about this story was that a lot of little different things reminded me of the show Veronica Mars.  One really rude and horrible character, Lauren Werner, totally reminded me of Madison Sinclair from Veronica Mars, and I began to picture Lauren as Madison in my head.  There were a few other things that reminded me of Veronica Mars as well, but I won’t go into those because of spoilers.  But anything that reminds me of Veronica Mars really makes me happy!

Katie Cotugno also really has some great writing within this story.  I didn’t write down too many quotes in my notes, but I’ll share my favorite one: “Still, there were such huge swaths of his life I didn’t know anything about–whole paragraphs blacked out of wartime letters, movies modified to fit this screen.” 

My rating for How to Love by Katie Cotugno:

4 big stars.  A great story about loss and love and everything in between. I’m looking forward to reading more books by Katie Cotugno in the future.

Find it:  Goodreads │ Amazon │ HarperCollins
Disclaimer:  I purchased this book myself.  I was not compensated in any way for this review.


  1. Bittner

    April 19, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    I have only read one book about teen pregnancy (at least that I can think of) and that was Slam! by Nick Hornby, his one and only YA book. It was really good and written from the guys perspective. I read that one maybe two years ago, and the thing that still resonates with me all this time later is that he really captured the desperation of the situation.
    Anyway, as far as this book goes, I'm glad all the V.M. similarities made you happy!

  2. Aly

    April 19, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    This is one of my favorite books. I just knew from the first few pages that I was totally in love with the narrative and the character's voice. I loved Reena as a character because I could relate. You know? To that almost debilitating crush on someone. Also, I just love Sawyer too. I know some people had problems with him but I felt like they both were to blame for their problems.

  3. Rachel Hoyt

    April 20, 2014 at 1:50 am

    I had kind of written this one off, but now I'm definitely reconsidering that! I'm the same in that I've been getting into contemporary more recently but that it also has to have real substance, so this is a good recommendation. :) And I love that line from the novel! It sounds like the writing is really good. :) Great review!!!

    Rachel @ Paper Cuts

  4. fakesteph

    April 20, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Hmmm… I've been about halfway through this one for a few months now. Maybe I should go back and finish it. :)

  5. Kate Midnight Book Girl

    April 21, 2014 at 2:54 am

    I think I want to read this one! I totally thought from the synopsis that it was an adult or new adult book, the fact that it's YA is super intriguing.

  6. Jen Ryland/YA Romantics

    April 22, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    I was really conflicted on this book. I really liked the writing, but I HATED the ending with a fiery passion.

  7. Kimberly @ On the Wings of Books

    April 23, 2014 at 12:52 am

    So glad you really liked this one! I've been on the fence with this one but honestly, you know I love contemporary so it stays on the list! Not a huge fan of before/after narration, especially if it's hard to tell the difference, but if the story is good then I guess it doesn't matter!

  8. Margie Durham

    April 30, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    This one is on my shelf. It was great read your take on it.

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