How to Love: review

September 26, 2013 2013, 3.5 star books, contemporary, tonya 48 ★★★½

How to Love: reviewHow to Love by Katie Cotugno
Published by Balzer & Bray on October 1, 2013
Genres: contemporary
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
For fans of Sarah Dessen and John Green, How to Love is a breathtaking debut about a couple who falls in love . . . twice.

Before: Reena Montero has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember. But he's never noticed that Reena even exists . . . until one day, impossibly, he does. Reena and Sawyer fall in messy, complicated love. But then Sawyer disappears 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. Reena's gotten used to life without Sawyer, but just as suddenly as he disappeared, he turns up again. Reena wants nothing to do with him, though she'd be lying if she said his being back wasn't stirring something in her.

After everything that's happened, can Reena really let herself love Sawyer LeGrande again?
Maybe if I’d taken the time to read the blurb or ask what How to Love by Katie Cotugno was about, I wouldn’t have read it. Or maybe morbid curiosity would still have gotten the better of me, but I’d have had an easier reading experience for being prepared.

Because there are some books you read for the pleasure of losing yourself totally, of becoming an entirely different person in a different time and a different reality. And there are some books you read to catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, to see yourself reflected back from a new perspective.

I wasn’t prepared to see myself staring back at me in the form of Reena Montero.


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.


Almost three years have passed, and there’s a new love in Reena’s life: her daughter, Hannah. Reena’s gotten used to life 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?

In this breathtaking debut, Katie Cotugno weaves together the story of one couple falling in love—twice.

Full disclosure: this is going to be a very personal review from me, likely without even a hint of objectivity. Because I’ve been Reena. As you might know, I am a single mother. I became a mom much earlier than I intended to be, and I did have to put most of my plans on hold to raise a child by myself. So to say this book hit home is a pretty enormous understatement.

This book destroyed me.

I don’t know if I’ve ever been more emotional. I ran the gamut from sorrow to despair, to frustration to PISSED OFF. I might still be a little pissed, to be honest.

Katie Cotugno got a lot of things right. The bone deep exhaustion of a single mother, the constant worry, the unending juggling act of trying to work full time, while still going to school and trying to raise a child without asking too much help from your family. The shame and the disappointment from your family, from your friends, and from everyone who wanted better from you. The resentment and the guilt tempered with the joy and wonder and absolute devotion you feel toward your child.

And most importantly, the armor you have to forge to get through those first few years without shattering under the weight of responsibility and fear and despair.

I identified with Reena so much, in both the Before and After points of view. The heady enormity of first love that eclipses every single thing in your life. That spark that, even in the After–after the worst kind of heartbreak–lingers, lives dormant under your skin just waiting to be ignited again.

A baby before my seventeenth birthday and a future as lonely as the surface of the moon and still just the sight of him feels like a homecoming, like a song I used to know but somehow forgot.

I know Reena. I was Reena. And I wanted better for her.

I won’t go into the spoilery details of why How to Love threw me into a rage, but somewhere along the line it shifted from a story about how Sawyer left Reena to raise a baby by herself, to a story about how it wasn’t Sawyer’s fault.

For me, Sawyer was never redeemed. He never made an effort, or seemed penitent. He just slipped back into Reena’s and Hannah’s life like he belonged there, without having to earn his place at the table. I’m pretty sure he never actually said sorry, without an excuse immediately following it.

And uh… yeah, I may have been projecting just a teeeensy bit of my own issues onto a fictional character, but I was what you might call a Rage Monster for most of the last half.

That being said, I think–my issues not withstanding–How to Love is a beautifully written book with strong characters (some stronger than others *cough*), and an important story about what life looks like after the teen pregnancy.

This review also appears on GoodReads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher. 


Tonya sig - teal

48 Responses to “How to Love: review”

  1. Traci @ The Reading Geek

    Great review! This book is sitting on my nightstand and I hope to get to it soon. It’s a book that I wouldn’t have necessarily picked up, but I’m happy I did after a friends suggestion. It sounds like it will be a really emotional story. I’m bracing myself now though for Sawyer.

  2. April

    I just read a review for this book, and now I see yours… I am seriously going to have to get it.. Its sounds so good.

    I wont personally relate to Reena like you did, but I have a few close friends I stood by during similar situations, so I’ll relate that way.

    really excited for this one.. I keep seeing awesome things.

  3. Vivien

    My main frustration with this book was Sawyer. I just felt like he got off a tad too easy. But I did enjoy reading the book. It’s a honest look at something that affects many people in the world. In the end, it did leave a smile on my face so the message it told was done well.

  4. Jen Ryland/YA Romantics

    I agree with you 1000%. Sawyer was a pretty difficult character to like or sympathize with. At the same time, he seemed realistic to me — an immature kid who just wasn’t ready to be a father or even a boyfriend to Reena. The fact that he never contacted Reena after he found out about the baby, never sent money, never did anything at all was pretty disappointing, and being given some flimsy excuse for his disappearance bothered me.I also felt let down by the ending.
    That said, I did enjoy the writing a lot, and I loved Reena. I know how hard it is to be a parent; I can’t even imagine doing it all on my own, and I just wanted to hug her….

  5. Karen

    I have this book and I was worried about reading because I felt like I would be annoyed. After reading your review I’m pretty sure I will be lol But it also seems like it might be worth the frustration to meet Reena.

  6. A Canadian Girl

    I haven’t heard of this one but it seems like an emotionally intense read and so I’ll check this out when I’m in the mood for a book like this. It annoys me though Sawyer just waltzes in and gets accepted after having left Reena. I personally would be pissed but situations like that do occur in real life …

  7. Candace

    I never had an experience like this, but I think this would be very emotional for me. And I think I would have some issues with him, it would be hard for him to redeem himself and it sounds like he doesn’t really. At least in our eyes. That would be frustrating for me.

  8. Sunny Duvall

    I pretty much wanted to applaud your review because it was so beautiful. I like to read reviews on this one to see everyone’s different views, but I especially like yours because it was from a personal standpoint…and your range of emotions make me nervous on how I’ll feel! But I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle how easily Sawyer comes back in. The whole not apologizing and not redeeming himself? Unacceptable. Wonderful review!

  9. Denise Berube

    Wonderful review, thank you for sharing your feelings so honestly, having been a single mother myself, I can completely relate to some of this.

  10. Joyous Reads

    I’ve had the experience of reading a book so like my own life, so I know where you’re coming from. Mine was about suicide and the questions that actually, the book didn’t really answer for me. And I think I was expecting the book to help me but at the end of the day, it was all on me.

    Great review, Tanya. If anything, just look at what you’ve got and say that you’ve done your best and your child is loved.

  11. 013mayo

    oooohhh…. sounds nice :) and I love your passion about it ;) im also one of those people who get so involved in the book, i am literally there :b

  12. Becca @ Nawanda Files

    I’m reading this one right now. I’m glad it got a lot of things right about teen pregnancy. I’m struggling with Sawyer as I keep reading further and further in it, and I’m hoping he gets more dimensional. But maybe the book would have been better told in two points of view to understand his side of things. Love your review and your honesty!

  13. Tanja - Tanychy

    I can only imagine how you felt considering that this book deals with something you’ve been through. For me the experience was quite different. I never manage to connect with main characters when it comes to teen pregnancy stories but main problem for me was Sawyer. I really didn’t like him. Great review Tonya :)

  14. Melanie

    Beautiful review, Tonya! I’m glad that this book could resonate with you well, I haven’t heard much about this book but I’ve the cover a lot. I may actually try this after reading your review.

    Thanks for sharing! <33

  15. Bonnie R

    Fantastic review. Those books that really hit home are always the hardest but thanks for sharing your story with us. :)

    Even for someone who can’t relate, it would absolutely be expected that Sawyer would be apologetic and repentant. Just hearing that that wasn’t the case upsets me and makes me leery of this book. It’s sitting on my shelves currently waiting for me to read. I think it’s fabulous to know that he does finally take his place and start manning up but I would have hoped he would have been more sorry and have at least said sorry…

    • tonya

      I think he was apologetic in his own way, but always pushed for a place in Reena’s life, instead of asking for one. Like he deserved it rather than earning it. It was a little too disrespectful for my (admittedly biased) expectations.

      Still, great writing and strong characters. I think you’d probably enjoy it a lot more than I was able to.

  16. Keertana

    Uh-oh, I’m really worried now. I added this to my TBR at the recommendation of a friend who promised me emotion and well-developed characters – which seems to be the case – but the whole concept of redemption is one I struggle with. I disliked The Kite Runner because I never felt as if the protagonist redeemed himself and if you struggled with that same concept in this novel, I likely will too. :/ I think I’ll still give it a shot, only because I’m so curious about this one, but I’ll go into it expecting a lot less for sure.

    • tonya

      I think you should take my review with a grain of salt. My reading experience is unique, and I was much less likely to forgive Sawyer than anyone else who hasn’t been in the situation. You might find yourself completely on board with him. I hope you give it a shot, the writing is wonderful.

  17. dreamsofawalrus

    Wow. Great review, and I love knowing how someone who’s actually experienced the subject matter of a book like this feels about it.

    As someone who tends to hold grudges WAY longer than the MC ever does, I think I might have run into the same problem with a character like Sawyer, even without anything to project onto him. Still might give this a go, even though realistic fiction isn’t usually my thing. :)

    • tonya

      Oh, I am a total grudge-keeper. Forgiveness is not one of my strong suits. ;) I nearly always have an issue with it in contemporary novels. I think, though, your perspective of Sawyer’s redemption might be different from mine, and you’d have an easier time forgiving him. I hope you pick it up. :)

  18. Book Chelle

    So much respect to you and your review. It is very obvious that this story and the characters brought out such intense emotions. I always think of that as a good thing when an author can connect her words to a reader.

    Wonderful review. Thank you for sharing something personal with us.

    • tonya

      Definitely! I think Cotugno is a wonderful writer, and very skilled writing emotional scenes. I know my experience with the story is totally biased. I’ll definitely pick up whatever she writes in the future.

  19. Melliane

    wow it looks like a really intense book, it’s been a while since I read something like that, but well I think we need to be really happy before starting it lol

    • tonya

      I think my experience with it is probably extreme, and you’d not get so emotional over it. But yes, a happy light hearted book lined up after would be a good idea! ;)

  20. Sam (Realm of Fiction)

    I always think it’s interesting when you can find a story that accurately reflects a personal time or memory, even if it isn’t always in the way you expect. Despite the issues you had with Sawyer’s part, I’m glad you thought Katie Cotugno got a lot of things right. It probably isn’t something I choose to pick up, but it sounds like a strong read. Lovely review as always, Tonya!

    • tonya

      Cotugno’s style is lovely, and she writes the hard emotions so well. Even if you don’t think this particular story is right for you, keep her in mind for the future. I think there will be much more to come from her. :)

  21. Kate @ Ex Libris

    I agree that Sawyer was never redeemed in the book, but I felt like it also didn’t use love as a cure-all. I felt like the story communicated forgiveness, but not that they wouldn’t have work to do in the future.

    Thank you so much for this review and for your perspective….

    Kate @ Ex Libris

    • tonya

      You’re right, I did like that aspect of it. I guess I would have liked the ending more if she’d forgiven Sawyer, but still made him earn his place back in her life. He just pushed his way in, and his attitude toward her (and especially with Aaron) felt completely disrespectful.

  22. Jasprit

    Tonya thank you for sharing your personal experience with us and just how much you could connect with this book especially with Reena’s character. I really admired her strength and courage at bringing up Hannah all by herself and it did annoy me in parts at how Sawyer could just waltz back in! I for sure will definitely be reading more from Cotugno, this was a really beautiful read! Lovely review!

    • tonya

      I will read more from Cotugno as well. She has a great style, and a real knack for characterization and emotions. I’m glad you enjoyed this one as well!

  23. LisaFicTalk

    That must have been hard to write but I applaud you for it, Tonya. I love that you were honest and didn’t hold back. Absolutely great review.

    • tonya

      Thanks, Lisa! I held back a lot of rage, haha, but I didn’t feel it was fair to blast a book when my experience with the subject was unique and totally biased.

  24. Savannah Bookswithbite

    I honestly had no idea what this book is about. Your review is awesome and has perk up my curiosity to read the book. Thanks for sharing your personal issues. I know it hard, but telling your story gives this story life.

    • tonya

      I’m glad it’s piqued your interest! Honestly it was a very well-written, emotional read and I’d recommend it to anyone (well, almost anyone). But I was a little biased, heh. ;)

  25. Liviania

    I know what you mean when a book unexpectedly hits close to home. (I can barely deal with books with an elderly relative with dementia. I especially can’t deal with ones that demonize families for using nursing homes and hospices.) It’s rough, but it’s nice to know the author gets it right.

    I’ll definitely trust your judgment on the second half. I don’t think this would be a romance for me.

    • tonya

      I’ve seen a lot of very good reviews for this one, so I think my experience with it might be unique. you might find Sawyer completely redeemed. I’d say take my review with a grain of salt. I’m obviously biased. ;)

  26. K.

    Breathtaking review about an obviously very personal and difficult situation. How appropriate that this book followed our last disussion post. I find books that put a mirror to your life and make you look back or even look ahead as some of the scarier and even dangerous stories. Thanks for sharing this with us, Tonya.

  27. Mary @ BookSwarm

    Wow. *hugs* And I can totally understand the rage against Sawyer. He’d have to do something incredibly selfless or amazing to make up for what he did. And to you, many hugs!

    • tonya

      Thank you, ma’am. Thankfully my experience is many years (almost 11, actually) in the past, so it isn’t as fresh as Reena’s experience, but it’s never easy to relive.

      I think in Sawyer’s case some might have a different perspective than mine, and see him as redeemed… but I needed more from him.

  28. Carina Olsen

    Sigh. Love your review. <3 But my god. I would never ever read a book like this. Too much heartbreak, made even worse by triangle. Yeah. Not for me. But I'm glad you enjoyed it, somewhat :) Thank you for sharing <3

    • tonya

      It was definitely a hard book to get through, and to be honest I probably wouldn’t have made it through the first chapter if I hadn’t planned to review it on the blog.

  29. rhapsodyinbooks

    Totally agree with you about Sawyer. And I found it infuriating that she seemed smart, yet could never say no to him, no matter how bad it was for her.

    • tonya

      Yes! I mean, I’ve been there. I know how it is. But the end, just…giving in? Ugh. I couldn’t handle it.