Pages: 400 pages, paperback
Acquired: Kindly sent for review by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads): 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 sight. 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.
First impressions: A real love story? Yesss please. I did like the thought of reading How to Love and when I first received it I really enjoyed the first couple of chapters as a taster but it was one that stayed on my shelf for a month or so before I picked it up. I think maybe I was a little 'bad boy' love storied out at the end of the last year - but that just goes to show how wrong first impressions can be.
Story: A contemporary love story with a big hook, How to Love touches not only on the tragedy of losing a friend, or of falling into a troubled relationship and subsequent abandonment but the struggle and stigma of teenage pregnancy.
Writing: There's a hell of a lot packed into How to Love and it is quite lengthy for YA but it deals with each of the issues it confronts very well and doesn't get too bogged down in the middle, which is what I was worried about with the length. Luckily, though, Cotugno is a great writer and keeps everything ticking along nicely so I didn't feel bored at any point.
I think the construction of How to Love is part of what makes it such a strong, powerful read. Each chapter alternates between the past and the present, so we learn how Reena and Sawyer's lives are slowly intertwining again at the same time we learn what happened to them in the past.
Gradually finding out about Reena and Sawyer's past makes for such a tense, exciting reading experience and I went through so many different emotions as I was reading. I was completely involved in the story, willing Reena to make the best choices for herself and Hannah and not just getting suckered back into accepting Sawyer again without thinking about the impact it would have on both of their lives.
I like that Cotugno chose for the characters to act realistically, even though it can make them seem unpleasant at times. I'd rather see Reena's family seeming unsupportive but realistic, rather than accepting every decision she made without batting an eyelid, so I'm glad she decided to portray the characters, especially Reena's father, as true to life depictions.
Characters: Cotugno has created such a great voice for Reena and I really felt present the entire time, my attention didn't wander and I found myself rooting for her from page one. She lost her best friend, the love of her life and everything she thought she'd have in the future. She gave everything up to raise her daughter and make her number one priority and it's impossible not to warm to a character who is so selfless.
I'm really impressed with the way Sawyer was presented. So many novels would have gone down the standard 'bad boy' route but we see that there's so much more to Sawyer, he's a whole rounded person and not just a stereotype. My opinion of him at the beginning of the book was very different to how I felt by the end of the book and it's Cotugno's fantastic character development that managed to make me completely change my mind about him.
Final thoughts: A beautiful, frank love story, Cotugno teaches us about loss, first love and responsibility.