by Katie Cotugno
Published: October 1, 2013
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.
I've put off writing this review long enough. It's just that.. How to Love surprised me. Truth be told, it's not a really pleasant scenario going through the beginnings of the book. I'm going to admit, I did not like those parts. I even decided to set it aside for a while - okay, about two months - after 20 chapters to cool down. I am SO frustrated - with the characters, the love story, the unfairness of the situation.. From the start I know not to take this personally (I don't), that to accept (I do) that it must have a reason why it was written that way. It was so hard to fall in love with it at first probably because it is in Reena's perspective. And I think it purposely made me feel that way because you know what? It was the very reason why I loved it in the end. As a whole.
My first reactions when I started this: not a fan of Reena, not a fan of Sawyer, not a fan of them together, I don't like where this is going, I hate Sawyer, this is so unfair.. blah, blah, blah.
*Beware: These parts may contain spoilers.*
Reena.. I don't know exactly how to describe her. Cool. Composed. Not very expressive. And like every other girl, she fell in love. She was supposed to graduate high school a year early and travel the world - fulfill her dreams. Then she got pregnant. And those dreams went poof including Sawyer. Now those places she dreamt of are just that - dreams. She frustrates me. Then Sawyer was back from wherever he disappeared to and it frustrated me even more.
He’s been traveling this whole time, Finch tells me in the kitchen, rambling around the country like a tumbleweed or Jack Kerouac, with no particular destination in mind.
“Traveling,” I repeat slowly, the colossal unfairness of it hitting me with a force so physical I actually grab the edge of the prep table until I steady out. I feel like my insides have been excavated, like I’m some screwed-up ghost version of myself. “How nice for him.”
It was like a punch in the gut for Reena and this whole time I was thinking there's no way Sawyer can go back to your life like the last two years he left you did not happen. When your family and his left you on your own, as well. NO. WAY.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Sawyer tells me, ignoring the acidic coat of sarcasm on my words. He moves deftly out of my way as I bounce around the kitchen, like he can anticipate where I’m going to go next. “I want to be here. I want to do whatever I can do to be a part of this.”
I open my mouth to say something snotty, then close it again. Suddenly I am so, so tired. I am tired like I’ve had two years of no sleep at all. “Okay,” I tell him. “Fine.”
That's it? Just like that?! IT'S. NOT. FINE! Why, Reena? Why now? Why feel so tired now when it should be the time you have to be at your strongest? For two years she's kept it all in - the anger, despair, loneliness, heartbreak.. I hated and pitied her a little for that but at least she survived - lived. And although barely, at least she's still standing. Those two years raising your child on your own is not easy so why does Sawyer have it SO, SO EASY? I want to strangle Reena. I want her to SPEAK UP and tell Sawyer to go to hell.
At this point I am overwhelmed with my anger towards the book that of course I couldn't begin to try and understand her feelings. That's what happens when you are sucked into Reena's head. So when the time finally came that Reena let it all out..
“You haven’t wanted anything to do with Hannah, or with me, in years,” I tell her shrilly. I think of broken dams, walls caving in. “You don’t talk to me. Nobody talks to me. About me, maybe, but maybe not, even. I wouldn’t know, because this is the first Sunday since Hannah was born that I’ve been invited to dinner.” I glance at Sawyer, my gaze darting like a cornered animal. “So, you know, thanks for getting me back into the club.”
“I’m not an idiot,” I say, lifting the baby out of her high chair and bouncing her a bit on my hip. It’s useless, though; there’s no way to calm her when I’m this riled myself. “I screwed up, but I’m not generally stupid. Don’t think I don’t know how you feel about me. You’ve all made it pretty clear how you feel.”
“Well, Hannah belongs to both of us.” I look around the table accusingly, Roger to my father to Lydia and back again. “Me and Sawyer. We had sex. We’re not married. I’m sorry. And I know it’s incredibly offensive to all of you, and that’s fine, but I can’t sit here and put on a show and … repent anymore. I’ve been repenting for years.” I pause for a second, shrugging angrily. “Nobody even threw me a baby shower!”
“Serena,” says my father. His face has gone dark as his tomatoes, his eyebrows drawn together in a thick line. “Calm down.”
I'm crying so hard and cheering her at the same time. I'm just.. I don't know! I'm not very good with explaining the way I feel in words or how to deliver my point clearly. Especially in English. I suck at this! But anyway.. from that moment, I began to understand. That despite their messy love story, there is something in it. Gah! You'd probably understand if you've read the book and if we have the same line of thinking.
Reena and Sawyer did not exactly have a wonderful relationship considering the things that happened before they were finally together. Kinda uneventful. Realistic. The book was written in alternating Before and After parts which I generally liked. It's hurtful to think of it individually. My advice? Be patient. Be open. Don't let every negatives stop you from finishing this book. I'm really glad I picked it up again. If I base it on my initial feelings, I would have thought the ending sucked. But after everything, they deserved that. I wouldn't say that after all it was a beautiful, perfect, happy-ever-after story because really, it's not - it's life. But it certainly would touch hearts. So yes, I do believe it deserves the hype.