How to Love
Quercus Editions Ltd, 2013
“Is that a methapor? Do you want it to be?”
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
From a girl you want to strangle in the neck with a baguette in 99 Days we go to a pitiful, ala Princess Sarah girl in this new book of Katie Cotugno. Like the one before it, How to Love has its own style of chapters, this time alternating parts before and after the pregnancy of the main character, the teenage Princess Sarah in the story: Reena.
Reena fell in love with this emo boy Sawyer then got pregnant then the boy suddenly disappeared from her life. Boom. The story tackles the life of Reena, how she struggled to raise the child on her own while under the judging eyes of her strictly Catholic-devout father. The story presents flashbacks, narrating how she and Sawyer fell in love, the challenges of being with a problematic teenage guy while maintaining her sight on her ultimate goal: to travel and write. Then we have those “after” chapters where Reena was forced to face the return of Sawyer and the emotions buried deep within her.
With that kind of plot, and the style of the chapters, the book could be good but sadly it is not. This is another forgettable YA book, because in effect, it lacks depth in issues tackled in the story: teenage pregnancy, teenage angst, teenage rebellion, family and the likes. It skimmed a bit on those topics but primarily it centers on the feelings of Reena to Sawyer, and how she came to forgive him in the end.
There’s a bit of a mystery on the first half of the novel with the character of Sawyer and readers would be glued on why this guy have these issues and really what is his deal. But I should note that while the flashbacks are good, it was kind of confusing, the way Cotugno alternates the story from before to after then back again. It gave me a headache. And I like the after chapters more. Don’t get me wrong, the style is cool, especially how Cotugno used it to built the story up to the time Reena found out she was pregnant, then shifting to Reena’s present, on how she faces the silent judgment of her family, on how she felt trapped on their little town and on how she faced the man who was the reason of it all.
“I’m done sitting here waiting for my real life to find me.”
But I must say that this was a fun read, the way Reena struggles with her messed-up feelings for a guy who left her after she got pregnant and the ensuing forgiveness which occurred afterwards, how it liberated her and enabled her to move on.
PS: I like the idea of slurpee being a substitute for drugs. And I want some now.
Even from all the way down here I can see his dark eyebrows arc. “Where you going?” he asks, leaning a little further out the window, like he’s trying to get a good look at my face.
I shrug, raise my hands a little helplessly. “Not sure,” I admit, still grinning. It feels hugely powerful to say. “But I brought a lot of notebooks.”
“Oh, yeah?” he asks, faux-casual. “Gonna do some writing?”
“Thinking about it,” I tell him, equally glib. It feels like we’re circling something here, like maybe we both know where this is headed. Like maybe we sort of always have. “Gonna start in Seattle.”
Sawyer nods his approval. “Seattle is nice,” he says mildly. His tan fingers curve around the window frame. “When are you leaving?”
Sawyer doesn’t say anything for a moment, then: “Wow.” He’s looking at me like he’s known me forever. He’s looking at me like I surprise him every day. He straightens up in the window, tall and familiar; the cup is damp and heavy in my hand. “I mean. Can you wait five minutes for me to put clothes on?”
“Good,” Sawyer says, and starts to tug the window down. “Stay put. I’ll be right there.”
“Okay,” I tell him, then: “Hey, Sawyer?”
He stops, peers back out at me. “Yeah? What’s up?”
I stand there. I gather my courage. I take a breath so deep it feels like it comes from the ground underneath my feet, and then I jump: “I love you, you know that?”
“I—” Sawyer breaks off, grinning hard and bright and happy. He looks like a little kid himself. “I do know that, actually,” he says after a moment. “But—Jesus, Reena.” He laughs a bit, disbelieving. “It’s nice to hear.”
It’s nice to say, I want to tell him, then realize I’ve got a whole country to say it. I’ve got a whole continent. I’ve got the whole world. The sun is rising, orange, a glowing circle in the sky.
“Come on,” I call, tilting my chin up. “I’m driving this time.”
“I got tired of being different, is the truth. It wore on me.”
“We’d dress up for regular life.”
“I’m not good at this stuff. I don’t like big groups of people. I’m not super social. I’m not your type.”
“I know this: not because I’ve ever been there, but because like so many other things I read it in a book.”
“The places I was going to explore, the stories I was going to write. I looked down at the damp, cracked pavement, felt the boundaries of my life constricting around me.”