Katie Cotugno writes a story full of the fierce yearning for love, life, and baring your soul. The process of getting there isn’t easy, as we see with the mixed up lives of Serena Montero and Sawyer LeGrande. Using a juxtaposition of two storylines, the “before” and “after” entwine until there’s a seamless story and the hope for the future.
The Past: At sixteen, Serena Montero is the quiet, smart, “good girl” that everyone thinks she is, but she wants two things desperately — to travel and to be with Sawyer LeGrande. Sawyer is her father’s business partner’s son, and they’ve been thrown around together since they were kids. Reena’s had a secret crush on him for about that long, so secret that she hasn’t even officially told her best friend Allie. Getting Sawyer is practically unattainable, or so Reena thinks until she discovers Allie’s been hiding a relationship with him for a few weeks. When she confronts her backstabbing best friend, it results in a falling out and Allie throwing her sexual exploits with Sawyer in Reena’s face. For Reena, there are two losses: losing her unattainable crush and losing her only friend. But then, inexplicably, Sawyer begins talking to Serena, asking her out, a little kissing . . . Things progress until Reena is unexplainably abandoned by Sawyer, pregnant, and realizing everything she’s loved has left her.
The Present: It’s been a few years since Sawyer got out of town with no warning, and as suddenly, he’s back again and wanting into Reena’s life. Reena has a daughter, Hannah, and she’s been taking community college courses. Her life is good, better than she expected, and she has a great boyfriend. But with Sawyer back, all of the feelings of the past and present converge, and she’s left once again with an unpredictable future. This time though, Reena knows better to let him back in, but she’d be lying if she said she didn’t care a little. The question here isn’t whether or not Reena loves Sawyer, but whether she’ll let herself love him again.
It’s a classic story though: good girl meets bad boy, bad boy leaves girl, girl moves on, boy comes back, and girl can’t deny she still loves him. There’s more to it than that, and I don’t have the words to express it, but how to love doesn’t end with Sawyer and Reena. It’s everything, and it’s such a beautifully moving story. So much more than what some reviewers are saying. The reader only sees Reena’s side of the story, but you have to read Sawyer’s story in between the lines. Also unspoken is the physical love manifested that is Hannah, and how both Sawyer’s and Reena’s love is refracted from that of their families. It’s not true that Sawyer is just some bad boy who is using Reena, although I won’t deny that it seems as such. Really, Sawyer has his own issues, with the pressure of being his parents’ golden boy, his fall from grace, his *SPOILER* accidental help causing Allie’s death, his desire to leave all that behind if Reena leaves, especially to prove to himself that he is worth something, his desire to be more than a drug addict, a slacker, worthless for anything except getting a girl, and he desperately wants to be the Sawyer that Reena sees, rather than the Sawyer he is.
Although readers/reviewers could get focused on how much Sawyer seems to be bad for Reena, they must have missed how Sawyer comes back a new man. He’s gotten rehab, he’s seen the world and knows that if he wants to make something, he’s got to be dedicated and work hard. Stick around for once. He can’t just expect everything to fall at his feet anymore. For both Reena and Sawyer, there’s a theme of repentance, salvation, and renewed hope/commitment. In my opinion, THAT is the message this book should be sending to teens. There can be second chances, but you have to wake up from your mistakes, forgive your guilt, and work hard to not be that person anymore. And the people who have gone through this journey are all the more beautiful for their courage and determination. Failure is not ruining, but a chance for something new. Get up and try again, harder, stronger, with more fervor until you get it RIGHT.
Obviously, this book does contain some mention of sex, drugs, and alcohol.