As soon as this book arrived on my doorstep, I couldn't wait to start reading. The bright, bold cover immediately intrigued me, and I've always been a sucker for love stories. How to Love is the debut novel by Katie Cotugno, and it tells the story of Serena and Sawyer and an event that sets their story three years apart ; there's before, and there's after. Each chapter alternates between before and after and follows Serena as she tries to come to terms with everything that has happened between herself and Sawyer both before and after his return.
The blurb reads -
This is a love story. But it's not what you think. This is not a first kiss, or a first date. This is not love at first site. This is a boy and a girl falling in messy, unpredictable, thrilling love. This is the complicated route to happiness that follows. This is real. This is life. This is HOW TO LOVE.
And there's also a smaller blurb inside that reads -
Reena has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember. He's never noticed her until one day...he does. But then he disappears, leaving a devastated - and pregnant - Reena behind.
Three years later and there's a new love in Reena's life; her daughter Hannah. But just as swiftly and suddenly as he disappeared, Sawyer turns up again. After everything that's happened, can Reena really let herself love Sawyer again?
This book was gripping from start to finish and the whole time I found myself desperate to read on and discover what exactly had happened between the before and after. Although it was kind of fairly obvious, the story was mysterious enough to keep me gripped and wondering exactly how it all went down. I knew what had happened to a certain extent, but I didn't know everything, which was quite cool. It kept me interested and unable to put the book down!
I really loved how each chapter alternated between before and after too. This was a really fresh approach to the way the story was written and not something I'd seen before. I thought I'd get confused, but Katie Cotugno wrote it well enough that it wasn't at all confusing and it just added to the mysteriousness of the story.
"Don't blow you off?" It comes out louder than I mean it to, and I hate myself for letting him know that I still think about him, that I carry him around in my skin. - Serena
The storyline was very refreshing too - in a nutshell, one of the main story lines is that the main character ends up falling pregnant at a young age and has to face up to not just all the responsibilities that come with this, but she also has to face up to giving up her life long dream of travelling. Again, this was quite refreshing, because it's not often we read about this type of situation from a young mum's point of view. Having children young is a very sensitive subject over in the UK, especially when it comes to things like benefits and being single mums and stuff. A lot of the time, young mums are judged over here, so it was interesting to see this issue broached from a different point of view. Serena didn't intentionally get knocked up, and Sawyer didn't intentionally miss the first three years of their daughter's life, but even though we see that they are genuinely really good people, we also see the negatives of their situation like the fact that Serena can no longer go travelling. This was new to me and although Katie Cotugno lives in America where I'm sure it's a lot different over there and young mum's are less judged, unknowingly she broached that subject in a really refreshing and interesting way.
I also enjoyed how despite being teenagers, Serena and Sawyer had to deal with their own fair share of serious issues. The press release I received with this book stated that this was a 'stunning debut for fans of John Green' and although I personally didn't get the big deal about John Green's books, I liked this comparison. John Green is known to write and create young characters that are reflective of what teenagers are like in real life ; smart, creative and bright. His stories tell of tragedies that young people have to overcome, which is a big difference when you compare this to other stories about young people that only feature more lighthearted story lines like falling in love, disagreements with friends, high school struggles etc. I liked that Katie Cotugno also used young characters that were much more realistic and captivating.
"No, you never paid one speck of attention!" Sawyer's voice rises. "You were so worried about making sure I never knew you felt one way or the other about me so that you wouldn't have to be embarassed or vunerable or whatever-" He stops and gets up off the glider. Turns around to look me in the eye. "Well, guess what, Reena? I never knew you felt one way or the other about me." He shrugs a little, elagant shoulders just barely moving. It's the saddest thing I've ever seen him do. "So I guess you won."
The characters of Serena and Sawyer were great; Sawyer was intriguing and very much reminded me of that bad boy at school that is so dark and mysterious. He was romantic when he wanted to be as well, and I thought his character was kind of really love able. He didn't stand out as anything particularly special, he just seemed like an average teenage guy, but a genuinely really good guy deep down. I liked that. Serena was a really good reflection of what any girl goes through that age - she was ambitious and determined, but she also found it tough to open up to people and liked to keep herself quite guarded when it came to it. This was quite realistic too. I felt Serena and Sawyer's relationship was quite adorable - it really reminded me of that first love, those butterflies you get and how utterly consumed you feel in regards to your first crush. Katie Cotugno really grabbed the intense feeling of falling in love for the first time and she managed to capture the innocence of it all too - except, it wasn't entirely innocent and they felt guilty as well.
Overall, I really loved this story. It was deeper than I expected, and it was really stimulating to read about such tragic and bittersweet situations being taken on and involving such young characters. There were definitely parts that left me feeling really emotional too, and some parts of the story were just full on heartbreaking and sad. But at the same time, written into the story were also glimpses of hope, innocent romance and thrilling love.
It feels like we're circling something here, like maybe we both know where this is headed. Like maybe we sort of always have - Serena
I'm not quite sure I understand the title, but my take on it would be that it's kind of an ironic take on how the book is a guide on how to love; not traditionally, but realistically and how love isn't really like it is in fairy tales. I think in some ways it represents how to experience real love in an unpredictable, fucked up and messy way.
I'd recommended this story to everyone, but I feel it would be great for high school students; perhaps as a book for them to read in English class because I thought it was really eye-opening.
You can pre order Katie Cotugno's How to Love on Amazon.
The book will be released on 3rd October.
*Please note, this post contains a PR sample, although all views are entirely my own and 100% honest.