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.
Before I begin, a hearty THANK YOU to Christina over at A Reader of Fictions who sent me with this book.
How to Love made me me feel the whole rainbow of feels, Katie Cotugno’s writing is gorgeous. She captures the poignant details of a moment with prose that reads like poetry and wraps itself around your heart, tugging it back and forth.
"The hideous thing is this: I want to forgive him. Even after everything, I do. A baby before my seventeenth birthday and a future as lonely as the surface of the moon and still the sight of him feels like a homecoming, like a song I used to know but somehow forgot."
Don’t lie, that gave you feels.
The story is told in alternating timelines that work like chocolate and peanut butter. Before tells the story of how Reena and Sawyer fell in love and the After shows Sawyer’s return and the shockwaves he sends through the life Reena put together in his wake. This sets up an incredible amount of reader tension, you see how sweet they were but always know it’s going to go horribly wrong. It kept me on the edge of my seat, wondering how everything was going to unfold, desperately flipping pages to find out.
Reena is a fantastic character. She’s smart, funny and tragic in a way that’s wistful as opposed to martyred. BeforeReena is a shy, slightly naive overachiever on track to graduate early and dreaming of the day she can head off into the world. AfterReena has become skittish and guarded, and turned her focus to creating a life for herself and her daughter. I loved that while she has an undeniable weakness for Sawyer, she doesn’t excuse and forgive him. She sticks to her guns and doesn’t let him forget that he screwed up (well, mostly, but everyone’s allowed a slip or two, right?)
Sawyer, on the other hand, is a hot mess. Initially portrayed as an enigma, as the story goes on you come to realize that he’s a troubled kid with mad parental issues. It’s annoying that you never really find out why beyond the standard ‘my parents don’t think I’m good enough’ sort of deal, but this isn’t ultimately his story, so I’ll let it go. AfterSawyer is all about redemption. While he never quite reaches an appropriate level of remorse, he’s working to prove he is a changed and worthy person.
The other characters are mostly bit players, but that doesn’t stop them from seeming like real people wandering in and out of the book. Shelby is hands down my favorite. She’s the snarky, no-nonsense best friend who stands in as the voice of reason when Reena gets dragged into Sawyer’s orbit and I wish she were real so I could stalk her into hanging out with me. Favorite quote:
“What about you, Sawyer? Can I offer you a strong alcoholic beverage to help take the edge off of being yourself?”
Their daughter, Hannah, isn’t a huge presence in the book which is a little strange looking back on it because it seems like she should be an enormous part of the plot. I like that she’s not, she could easily be a fall back plot device but the way Cotugno does it is far more layered. While Hannah’s a big part of the picture, the real story is about Reena’s emotional journey, accepting the past and beginning to hope for the future.
Tl;dr: How To Love is thoughtful, sad, and beautiful, absolutely worth checking out if that’s your sort of thing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go obsessively search Katie Cortugo’s blog for any mention of WIPs.