Review: How to Love by Katie Cotugno

Pub. Date: October 1st, 2013
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
389 pages

How to Love took me on an emotional rollercoaster ride. I was angered, inspired, annoyed, and overjoyed throughout the reading process because of how relatable Reena’s character is, and because of how realistically her situation is represented.  

With a 4.0, the chance to graduate high school after only three years, a close family with supremely strong religious beliefs, and general anti-social tendencies, Reena is not a teen you would expect to end up pregnant at 16. But she does. How To Love tells Reena’s story ‘Before’ the birth of her daughter Hannah, and ‘After’. Everything that ‘Before’ Reena experiences – from the destruction of a significant friendship, to her budding relationship with long-time crush Sawyer, until the moment she finds out she is pregnant – makes you feel like you're waiting to be propelled into the middle of an intersection, knowing the car speeding up behind you has no chance of stopping before impact. You know something serious and potentially horrible is about to happen, but you're powerless to stop it.

‘Before’ Reena’s decisions frustrated me, but not as much as ‘After’ Reena’s situation truly broke my heart. Reena is an overwhelmingly smart girl, who seems to actually know, and stay true to herself – yet she makes overwhelming poor choices. I felt really sorry for ‘Before’ Reena. She’s lonely and because of that she puts up with a lot that she shouldn’t. I wanted to scream at her and tell her how bad of a boyfriend Sawyer is. He never treats her fairly. Not from the first time they kiss, or the first time they have sex, or the second he leaves town without notice. Switching between the ‘Before’ and ‘After’ stories was an extremely effective tool to build tension, and it really allowed the character growth of Reena, Sawyer, and their parents, to shine through. You have an idea how ‘Before’ Reena’s story is going to end, but the need to learn every detail of the events leading up to her pregnancy, especially what goes on between her and Sawyer, is just as compelling as the need to keep reading how everything has changed ‘After’.

I really appreciated how much all of the characters had to learn - from the parents, to Sawyer and Reena, to their friends - and how they all needed to acknowledge their own faults. How to Love shows how everyone makes bad decisions and mistakes. But, truly loving someone means loving them in spite of those things and forgiving them, or deciding you can’t truly love them anymore, and walking away.

How to Love is a tearjerker. The good and bad times of Reena’s life will make you feel emotions from across the spectrum. I highly recommend this novel.

Rating 10/10

** I received a copy of this novel from the publisher to read and honestly review. I was in no way compensated. 

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