Review: How To Love by Katie Cotugno

Format: e-ARC
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: October 1, 2013
Source of my copy: publisher via Edelweiss
Series: none
Synopsis (from Goodreads)
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?
In this breathtaking debut, Katie Cotugno weaves together the story of one couple falling in love—twice.

Okay, so there were basically two stories that intertwined in How to Love, the “before” and the “after.” The “before” told the story of the rocky start of Reena and Sawyer’s relationship and how he eventually left her for parts unknown, right before Reena found out that she was pregnant. The “after” was more than two years later. Reena was a single mother still living at home with her dad and stepmom. She was raised in a Catholic household so getting pregnant as a teen was the worst thing she could have done. Her father hardly spoke to her or look her in the eye now and she knew that he will probably never forgive her. She felt a lot of guilt, sadness, anger and disappointment but she’s able to push that aside and concentrate on taking care of her daughter, who she loved with all her heart. She’s even taking some classes at the community college and dating her best friend’s brother. Life wasn’t ideal but she’s making the best of it. Then, suddenly Sawyer came back and shakes up Reena’s life again.

I knew as soon as I read the description of How to Love that I was going to enjoy it and I was right. This book just really spoke to me--not that I got pregnant as a teen or that my boyfriend abandoned me or even that I’m Catholic (although I had a religious upbringing), but all the emotions that Reena felt and what she was going through with her dad really hit close to home because her dad is my dad. I also related to Reena’s character--she’s quiet (but not shy) and keeps to herself so people think she’s cold and unfriendly, she’s socially awkward, she’s an introvert and not the easiest person to get to know... I just saw a lot of myself in her. She was not the most likable YA character out there (I’ve read other readers’ reviews that mention how inaccessible she was) but that doesn’t make her any less real.

Days after I finished How to Love it was still on my mind. I loved it. It brought out so much emotion in me and I really felt for Reena’s character. The whole thing with her dad after she got pregnant? Things would probably go down the same way with my dad and me if I did get pregnant in high school. 

I know this novel is being pushed as a love story and it is to a point. We certainly get a lot of how their bumpy relationship developed and then coming back to each other again--that’s a big part of the novel but it wasn’t the biggest part. It is bigger than a love story. I think Reena’s journey to redemption and self-forgiveness was biggest part--forgiving herself, letting go of the guilt and anger, and just letting go and realizing that she can still pursue her dreams even after everything happened. It was about family, friendship, growing up, sacrifices, love, guilt, repentance, forgiveness, among other things… It was a really powerful read.

How to Love was a very personal read for me. As soon as I finished reading it, I passed it on to my sister Leslie because I knew it will speak to her too. She devoured it, loved it and we got into a big discussion about it. How to Love was well-written and very readable. It’s the kind of book that begs to be discussed-- it is perfect for book clubs and discussion groups but I think everyone should read it. How to Love is an amazing debut novel and one of my favorite YA contemporary novels in 2013. I am very excited to read more by Katie Cotugno. She’s on my authors-to-watch list.


  1. I just got approved for this on Edelweiss, but it already expired, so I actually didn't get to download. I really wish HarperTeen would have approved it a week earlier. This is still high on my tbr. I might have to go purchase a copy, especially since my library isn't carrying it yet. Thanks for the review!

  2. thanks tressa! i hope you get it... and when you read it, you'll like it as much as i did :)

  3. So glad you enjoyed it, because we did too! And we totally agree: it's a love story, but more importantly, it's REENA'S story.

  4. I love that you were still thinking about this book long after you finished it. And I really like your add it on goodreads button. Very nice :)

    Thanks for the great review!

    Michelle @ Book Briefs

  5. I am so glad you mentioned the religious aspect of the book. I totally totally forgot about that! Shame on me. But I find that angle is very rare in YA. Her father was, of course, upset but everyone was so quiet and tip toeing around it. What could they really say? Reena did what she had to do, and was doing more than that for her and her daughter.

    This book made me feel so many things, and I am so anxious to pick it up again and rejoin these characters. I feel like there were prob little details I missed because I was so anxious to find out what was going to happen in the bigger sense.

    Great review!


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