Saturday, July 5, 2014

How to Love by Katie Cotugno

Published October 1, 2013 by Balzer + Bray
Hardcover, 389 pages
Borrowed from library

Reena has loved Sawyer ever since she was a child. It was an unrequited love until a series of events brings them together and Sawyer and Reena find themselves deeply in love. But it's complicated and dysfunctional until everything just falls apart with the sudden and unexplained leave of Sawyer just as Reena discovers she's pregnant. And now, three years later, Reena's daughter Hannah is beautiful and healthy while Reena has moved on from Sawyer's disappearance when he finally returns to their town and wants to pick up from where they left off.

This was a book that I never thought to pick up until I read Jamie's review on it whose judgement I always trust, especially for contemporaries! But after she raved about it, I was like, "I need to pick this book up because it sounds SO GOOD." And oh my goodness guys, it was SO GOOD. 

I read this book waaay back in April and yet, I still remember everything (or at least, the things that matter).
This may not be saying much for some people but I suffer from the worst book amnesia. Once I close a book, it's done. Everything about that book is wiped clean from my mind except for the author and maybe a vague (re: very vague) summary of the plot. But flash forward three months (I know, I am SO behind on my reviews) and I remember a lot more about How to Love than I usually do. And I think that's a true testament to what this book is like. It sticks with you because it's the type of story that shows the true nature of relationships and the complexity of them and the emotions you feel. It covers so many different areas of life and everything is depicted so accurately. Like you know how there are realistic fiction and some are real but you're like acutely aware that you are reading a book? And others, like How to Love, it's easy to forget this is a fictional work because it's written so accurately.

This book made me cry!
Just as a side note, I don't think I can say I'm not a book crier any more since I think I've cried reading six books to date. Surely that accounts for something? But anyway, How to Love certainly was a master at turning on the waterworks. Two chapters in and I was already blubbering and willing myself to HOLD IT IN because I was in the living room with my grandma and I definitely didn't want to cause a scene. But it's all related to what I said above about how realistic this book was so even though I haven't gone through similar to what the characters have, I could totally picture myself in their shoes.

How to Love is told in alternating chapters, switching from BEFORE to AFTER.
I think Cotugno made a really good choice to write the book with switching chapters showing us the before of Reena and Sawyer which included the very, very beginning to the falling in love all the way to the disappearance and then the after of Reena and Sawyer where we see Sawyer reintroduced to Reena's life. It made the book so much more captivating, switching from the different views, because everything was revealed one by one, like peeling the layers away from an onion (my simile is great, isn't it?). Which was frustrating A LOT of the time because something would happen in before or after which was intense and then it would just end in a cliffhanger. And I'd have to read a full chapter before I could see what happened (though honestly, I did skip bits) but there'd be another cliffhanger. It really was just CLIFFHANGERS EVERYWHERE which made the book so un-put-down-able. But having the before and after chapters also really strengthened the story and I liked having the insight from the before chapters while reading the after chapters and comparing the two different time periods to see what has changed.

Reena and Sawyer's love story is just so REAL and I loved that. 
It was such a breath of fresh air to see a relationship written in such detail and with everything. It was kinda like seeing everything under a magnifying glass, if that makes any sense. The reader was really given the inside look at Reena and Sawyer's relationship, we were really invested in their story and I think that's what makes this book so successful. Their story definitely isn't a perfect one - in fact, it's far from it - but it was REAL (god, I don't know how many times I've used that word to describe this book!). It was messy, complex and fraught with emotion. And for someone who hasn't been in a serious relationship like theirs, it was all foreign territory to me but it was so interesting to read about. I was with Reena and Sawyer at every turn and felt myself crying or laughing or falling in love all over again with them. I loved seeing them deal with the ups and downs of their relationship and even when the shit fell, I loved knowing that theirs was a true love and they would always, always come back to each other.

Reena and Sawyer as individual characters were also fantastic.
I loved Reena's strength and really admired her in all ways. Dealing with teen pregnancy is always tough and seeing her go through it really hurt especially when she had all these things she wanted to do, all these dreams that were kinda shuffled to the side after the baby. But even so, Reena's unconditional love for Hannah was so heartwarming and I loved reading the before and after chapters to see how much Reena matured in about three years. It was truly so incredible. I really liked Sawyer as well but I definitely was a lot fonder of him in the after chapters than I was in the before. I loved him at the beginning but just reading more about the past kinda made me feel less warm to him. I think he handled a lot of things poorly and couldn't really stand him, honestly. But then going back to the after chapters and finishing the book, I can look back and say I LIKED him and understood where he was coming from, even though some of his actions made me angry on Reena's part. Not that Reena didn't have moments that made me angry too but that was kinda the way it was for me with this book. I loved it because I hated it (or maybe dislike is a better word). I liked that I was able to have such intense and real feelings towards the characters.

There's great emphasis on family and friendship here as well.
Which I always LOVE seeing in love stories. I like my love stories to have a bit more to them than just love, you know what I mean? And I liked that How to Love had other great components as well. There's an interesting family dynamic with Reena's family and also one with Sawyer's. There's friendship between Reena and her best friend Allie and also Reena with Shelby. There's really a lot of deeper themes in this book that all were done really well and I think that really made this book better too.

I really, really enjoyed this book. The writing was amazing, I really liked the development of the characters and there were some really important themes throughout too. Sawyer and Reena had a kinda dysfunctional relationship and while there were certainly a lot of downs in their relationship, there was nothing more I wanted than to see them together at the end. Both of them made me want to scream sometimes but I loved them as characters. Such a strong novel, so authentic and IT MADE ME CRY. But this is one of the moments that I wish I used half stars because this book is totally a 4.5 for me. Or maybe a 4.8. It was REALLY good and I really liked it but it lost me a bit towards the end because I just wasn't loving the Sawyer parts. But overall,  a REALLY REALLY GOOD book.

if you're looking for a deeper read and for something that will give you all the feelies.

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