How many different ways can you tell a love story? Well, in order to make it compelling and entertaining, we’ve reached a point where it’s narrowed down to maybe 10 different combinations of the love story formula. If you’ve done extensive research like I have (watching Sleepless in Seattle 400 times, and/or anything else with the “will they or won’t they” vibe), you know how rare it is to go into a romantic movie, show, or book and come out of it feeling like you’ve been introduced to something that’s never been done before.
How to Love by Katie Cotugno is one of these rare gems. (Sidebar: you could win a free copy by entering our giveaway! Details below.) The book tells the story of Reena and Sawyer, childhood friends who fall in love and end up together, twice. Now, in order for there to be a second time, they need to have a pretty serious breakup in the middle, which they do. And unlike a lot of other romance novels I’ve read in the last year or two, the drama that surrounds them is realistic for their age. Which I very much appreciated.
Reena is an introvert. She keeps a select few people in her inner circle who really know and understand her. Everyone else sees her as a shy “ice queen” who is tightly wound because she’d much rather stay in and play card games or write, than go to a crowded bar surrounded by sloppy drunk strangers. She has her moments where she’s too closed off, but these flaws are ones that she and I share. I just got her, at every point in the story. I understood every moment of anger, and of regret. And her self assurance in the person she is and who she wants to be, despite the constant wondering if maybe she did just need to chill eff out.
Sawyer is a charismatic musician who loves to have a good time. He has his flaws, but everyone is drawn to him. At first you might write him off as your typical tortured, but irresistibly handsome “bad boy” because that would be Reena’s exact opposite. It would make sense for this story, right? But he’s not. He struggles with his own inner demons, but he’s softer than the typical bad boy. There’s always at least one moment in rom coms where I think, NOT WORTH IT, GIRL! Leave his ass! But I never got mad at Sawyer. I felt all of his pain just as deeply as I felt hers. And considering how different the two of them are, and considering that Reena is the narrator and she’s basically my personality twin, it should’ve been easy for me to instantly side with her whenever she got mad at him.
That’s some seriously incredible writing, to keep the reader firmly planted in the middle and empathizing with both characters when they are at odds with each other.
1. The supporting characters are outstanding.
Reena and Sawyer’s parents are best friends. They are godparents to each other’s kids and the dads own a restaurant together, where Reena, Sawyer and some of their friends work. The bonds and interactions between the parents, the couples, and the parents with the kids, it’s all just so real and normal. Reena’s dad loves Sawyer, but hates him when he starts dating his daughter. Sawyer’s mother always keeps a cold distance between herself and others, but adores Reena until she and Sawyer break up. That kind of thing. We’ve all had relationships like that, and these moments are captured beautifully.
2. Romantic love isn’t the only love story here.
Reena’s friends are brilliantly real as well. Allie is her childhood best friend that is her exact opposite, but they’re so in synch that they practically have their own language. Shelby is her bestie in adulthood, has major sass mouth and would take a bullet for her. She has fights with both of them over realistic issues. They hold grudges too long, stay silent for too long, and don’t forgive each other as easily as they should.
3. The twists will leave you breathless.
Two very sad incidents occur in this story that you will not be expecting. I will say no more, but be prepared for serious feels.
4. Religion plays a big part in this story.
As someone who isn’t religious whatsoever, I tend to get cringe-y and uncomfortable the moment religious themes get heavy, but not this time. Reena and Sawyer are both raised in strict Catholic households, so it’s not like she’s a “good girl” and he’s from the wrong side of the tracks. That’s something that I loved about their story. And the way their religious beliefs play into everything that they face, every argument with their parents, every harsh word they say to each other, and then everything that they leave unsaid, it’s all deeply fascinating. And it’s subtle, so you don’t really notice it until the story ends.
Okay, I know we all had brutal migraines when LOST did this, but I promise, this is better. Every chapter is a ‘Before’ or an ‘After’. The story weaves in and out of the past and present, getting you closer to the reason they broke up the first time and how they are able to find each other once again. You’re constantly learning more about their intense history and it’s almost as if you’re falling in love the second time right along with them.
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