by Katie Cotugno
To be published by Balzer + Bray
on October 1, 2013
Source: e-ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss
Summary of the book from publisher: 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.My take: This book was completely the opposite of what I expected. I saw "Alloy Entertainment" and "girl who gets pregnant in high school" and was ready for some frothy, drama-filled story. How To Love wasn't like that at all. Beautifully and subtly written, with a literary feel, the book is a story about a girl's blind love for a boy, a love which completely derails her plans and dreams. It's also a story about a boy who isn't ready to be a boyfriend and certainly not ready to be a father.
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?
Reena doesn't have the luxury of not being ready. Once she's decided to raise her baby, she has to resign herself to a new life that was not at all what she'd been planning. How To Love is told completely from Reena's point of view, alternating glimpses of her life "Before" and "After." At first I assumed that these designations meant before and after the baby, but they could really be before and after she fell in love with Sawyer, before and after her life changed completely, before and after she lost her innocence, both literally and figuratively. I loved Reena and also wanted to shake her half the time, so I'd say she's a realistically portrayed teenager.
Sawyer is much more of an enigma. The reader gets little to no insight into what's going on inside his head. He's the polar opposite of those dreamy YA book boys with the dreamy blue/turquoise/green eyes and all the right smooth words. Sawyer abandons Reena for the most implausible of reasons (this was the only thing about the book that didn't ring true to me) and then, to compound that, never calls Reena afterwards, never texts her, and finds out about his daughter only secondhand. Then he still doesn't call or text or send money. Sawyer was a hard character to like, which intrigued me, because rather than try to make me swoon over him, this book just put him out there, flaws and all.
When Sawyer unexpectedly comes back into Reena's life, she has to come to terms with his abandonment, her feelings for him, her family's disapproval, and her own lost dreams. To me, How to Love felt more like a documentary about teenage pregnancy than the reality show I was expecting. The book doesn't judge the characters or try to influence the way the reader feels about them. So I think that different readers will come out of the story feeling many different ways about the characters, their choices, and the story's ending. If you've read the book, let me know what you thought!