Perhaps the most unique element of How I Lost You is that both Grace and Kya are hugely into paintball. Grace's dad owns a paintball place called Splatterfest, and taught both girls the sport, never expecting them to take to it the way they did. Both girls even hope to go to a specific college with a woman's paintball team, the Grinders. I actually had no idea paintball was so official, with college teams and tournaments and pro ballers, so I learned a new thing. Grace takes paintball seriously, and is planning for the future. She's focused and hard-working, trying to make her dreams come true.
Grace, Kya and Jason have been three best friends for years, but recently relations have been strained between Kya and Jason, but Grace doesn't know why. Grace really wants to put everything back together as it was. Kya keeps acting out more and more, getting drunk and dating increasingly awful guys. Because Grace knows the tragic reason that Kya does these things, Grace lets her behavior slide.
As the tagline on the cover suggests, what How I Lost You is about is the death of a friendship. Though Kya and Grace have been friends for so many years and love each other, they're no longer healthy for one another. Friendships are powerful and the end of them hurts every bit as much as the dissolution of a romantic relationship. What I really appreciate about Gurtler's treatment is that, even though Kya does a lot of unforgivable stuff, I don't feel like she's entirely demonized, and Grace never gets judgmental beyond the reasonable degree of trying to ensure Kya's safety. Plus, there's a real bond between the two, and they do feel like they've been loving friends in the past, not frenemies.
There's a sweet little romance as well, with Canadian Liam. Though it's not a huge part of the plot, the romance is totally shippable and convincing for a first relationship. Both Liam and Grace are so shy and unsure and a bit awkward and it's so cute. Also, Grace has all sorts of dirty thoughts about him, which is fantastic, because girls do have libidos and think about cute butts and kissing and more, just like boys do.
I think my favorite thing about How I Lost You is actually Grace's whole family. There aren't many YA novels with fully intact, supportive, healthy, loving families, but this is one of those. Grace's dad is an ex-cop and all about rule-following; her mom is a foul-mouthed free spirit who isn't very cuddly, and loves to make up random songs. Her brother Indie is following in her dad's footsteps to become a cop, and he loves razzing his sister. Every weekend, they have a family tradition of monkey pancakes (not entirely sure what these are, but I want them) and the conversation is rambunctious. Also, the way that the family adopts Kya's friends gives me so many happy feels. The Andersons aren't perfect or overprotective or neglectful; they're real and fun and embarrassing parents.
What Left Me Wanting More/Possible Concerns
While it did not bother me, I can see the language in this one bothering readers who are sensitive to particular terminology. Kya especially and Grace a bit throw around terms like slut, skank, and whore, which I know makes some people really uncomfortable, so watch out for that. The treatment of Kya's issues was, I think, fair and realistic, albeit disheartening. However, I do think that the little side plot with Liam's story was unnecessary. It added in another seriously horrible story but didn't give it much time, and it felt way too contrived because of how nicely his experiences dovetailed with Grace's.
The Final Verdict:
If you enjoy contemporaries, but have been wanting one that deals more with family and friendship than romance, I highly recommend How I Lost You by Janet Gurtler. The novel is excellently characterized and does a nice job keeping the tone relatively light while openly tackling dark subject matter.