Recent Reads: How to Love

Length: 389 pages

Author: Katie Cotugno

Star Rating: 3/5

Genre: Contemporary (Romance/Hard-Hitting)

Before: Reena and Sawyer grew up together in a way that only exists in small towns. Their parents are best friends and business partners. Reena's dad is Sawyer's Godfather and piano teacher. The two wait tables and bartend at their parent's restaurant together. Reena is in love with Sawyer, but she is only a fixture in his life that's been around too long for him to notice anymore, like a strip of peeling paint in your childhood home. Somehow, miraculously, she and Sawyer end up tangled in a massive web of passion, lies, love, and trouble.

After: After Sawyer's sudden disappearance, Reena is left to bear the consequences of their teenage romance. She and her baby have borne the shame of their town and church alone, and made their small family a haven. That is until Sawyer returns home and learns he's a father.

I have trouble forming hard and fast opinions on this story. On one hand, it was something entirely different from anything I've read before in YA, but on the other, the execution of the ideas were perfectly meh.

To preface, YA contemporaries aren't exactly my thing, but Katie Cotugno is a name I've heard enough to try. This book being her debut, I won't judge it too harshly, and will likely try one of her more recent novels. That being said, had this been one of her more acclaimed works, I probably would have rated this lower.

This novel deals with some really heavy subjects that I have yet to really experience in YA, especially in contemporaries. We see teens face death, grief, dangers of alcohol, teenage pregnancy, drugs, and heavily damaged family ties. Unfortunately, the hard-hitting topics in this book are almost always experienced second-hand. It's almost as if the story-line is happening just outside the reader's field of vision, and they have to be caught up on the story later in dialogue. When major events do happen for the reader to witness first-hand, it almost feels watered-down, like the author didn't know how to convey deeper emotions to the reader. I love how gritty and real the story was, I just wish I felt more connected to it.

I also wish the characters were fleshed out more. I found it difficult to connect with them and understand their motivations. Cotugno put some very spineless cookie-cutter YA characters into some very not cookie-cutter YA scenarios. Had the characters been better defined and had more realistic (or just any) personalities, I think this book would have been leaps and bounds more impactful. This is a problem that tends to exist in all debut contemporaries that I read, so again, I will excuse it until I consume more of Cotugno's works.

Though this book wasn't the deep, emotional, and thought-provoking experience I was hoping for, I did still enjoy the read. Cotugno had some fantastic ideas, and a light read is never necessarily a bad thing. I am looking forward to checking out another of her works and I hope to see improvement in her writing. I think she has potential to make a contemporary that will really wow me.