How to Love: A Guide to Feelings and Relationships for Everyone
Writer/Artist: Alex Norris
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Hardcover, $17.99

Relationships are complicated things, and life doesn’t come with guides. Alex Norris’ book How to Love: A Guide to Feelings and Relationships for Everyone, though, is a delightful, simple-but-not-simplistic cover of a lot of the basics that just aren’t talked about and through enough.

Norris, best known as the creator of the ‘Oh No’ comics, has a charming art style that looks effortless where a few lines can ay a great deal, and the illustrations are matched with short and clear text. The result is a very readable, approachable, and adorable how-to that goes over a lot of the basics we’ve made complicated.

From basically infancy we’re bombarded with expectations about identity and relationships. There are onesies that declare babies who don’t even know what toes are yet to be ‘lady-killers.’ As toddlers we’re asked if our playmates are our boyfriend or girlfriend. For many of us the message has been to find The One around 18-20, get married, and start having kids quickly but this approach ignores so many things. How do you find someone? Is there a One? Do you even need romantic relationships? How do you know what to look for? And, very important but often neglected, how do you be someone that someone else would want to date in the first place?

How to Love covers all of these and more in its accessible format. This is the type of book I wish I’d found around 11 or 12 years old, and this is the exact book I’ll be trying to get to all of my niblings when they hit that age. There aren’t heavy details in Alex’s writing or illustrations, but it works. It works to the point that not only do I really enjoy the message, there’s a few pages I’ve had to show friends in person or on Zoom just because they’re so perfect. Page 29, for instance, is something I not-so-secretly want a print of to hang on my wall. The art style is open, inviting the reader to listen. It’s safe, it’s clear, and it isn’t judgmental. 

how to love page 29
How to Love p 29

While there are many sections that I really resonated with and enjoyed, it’s the post-breakup chapter that closes with what I feel is one of the most empathetic sentences I’ve ever read: “It is horrible when a relationship you care about ends sooner than you hoped.” Yes, we know this. But we don’t tend to apply it. We don’t tend to take the patience and time to heal and be kind to ourselves the way this chapter, and really this entire book, encourages. In fact, I think we spend a lot of time and effort to avoid the feelings and emotional fallout when any sort of relationship ends which makes this book’s reminder all the more important.

The next chapter talks about dealing with the aftermath in a healthy way instead of rushing forward. “But feelings we try to bury away tend to grow into something more,” says the chapter called How Do I Move On? “You need to confront the painful bits, wallow in your feelings, and the more friends and hobbies you have, the more easily you will erode away the sharp edges.” That runs counter to the common advice of just getting back out there, and it’s a far better approach.

I could spend a lot of time breaking out more quotes, but the problem is that as good as the words are, they have even more impact with the illustrations. Quotes don’t do this book justice. It is kind, understanding, and elegant.

I’d enthusiastically recommend this book to anyone who has hit double digits in years. Some of the sections feel pretty elementary, but you don’t know what you don’t know until a foundation for understanding has been laid. This is a charming shovel to break ground on building that foundation toward understanding more about messy, tricky feelings and emotions.

How to Love: A Guide to Feelings and Relationships for Everyone will be released November 19th, 2023 in hardcover and ebook formats. I’d suggest getting a physical copy if you can and have room for it because that makes it so much easier to share your favorite illustrations with friends.

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