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Summary and book reviews of We Contain Multitudes by Sarah Henstra

We Contain Multitudes

by Sarah Henstra

We Contain Multitudes by Sarah Henstra X
We Contain Multitudes by Sarah Henstra
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2019, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2020, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

Book Summary

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe meets I'll Give You the Sun in an exhilarating and emotional novel about the growing relationship between two teens boys, told through the letters they write to one another.

Jonathan Hopkirk and Adam "Kurl" Kurlansky are partnered in English class, writing letters to one another in a weekly pen pal assignment. With each letter, the two begin to develop a friendship that eventually grows into love. But with homophobia, bullying, and devastating family secrets, Jonathan and Kurl struggle to overcome their conflicts and hold onto their relationship...and each other.

This rare and special novel celebrates love and life with engaging characters and stunning language, making it perfect for fans of Jandy Nelson, Nina LaCour, and David Levithan.

Dear Little JO*,

I guess when you read this letter you'll be sitting right here looking at what I'm looking at. The front of Ms. Khang's English classroom with the old-​fashioned blackboard and the posters of famous book covers and the Thought of the Day and this new thing, this big wooden box painted in bright colors. I mean you don't know me because I just drew your name randomly. And if you're in grade ten this will be your first course with Ms. Khang, which means you don't know her as a teacher yet either. Pretty weird getting a letter from a total stranger I bet. Or how about getting a letter period, in this day and age.

Khang stands up there taking as much time as possible telling us what this box is for. She's turning it around and around to show off her paint job, tilting it forward to show the two slots in the top, pointing out the separate combination lock for each lid. All that buildup. After a while we're all expecting doves to fly out of it or something. And ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The epistolary form can be difficult for any writer to pull off convincingly, and that is at times true here as well...That bit of inauthenticity aside, We Contain Multitudes nevertheless beautifully conveys the vulnerabilities and heady joys of first love, even (or maybe especially) when surrounded by genuine complications and obstacles...continued

Full Review Members Only (648 words).

(Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Media Reviews

Shelf Awareness
This exploration of self and sexuality is sure to be quickly embraced by fans of Love, Simon, They Both Die in the End and The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue.

BookPage
We Contain Multitudes is a heartbreaker in many ways, but it's ultimately a beautiful story about how love (and poetry) are sometimes enough to carry the day.

Publishers Weekly
[A]s a medium for reporting day-to-day occurrences and conveying intimate feelings and classic themes—love, lust, and betrayal, among others—the letters shine. While the story’s format and build may strain credulity for some, the volume is likely to find admirers among fans of teen romance.

School Library Journal
While the extent of the epistolary conceit might beg credulity, plenty of other details here are realistic: the two boys' different but equally troubled families, the important roles siblings play in forming and maintaining one's own identity, and the difficulties inherent in hammering out a healthy, loving relationship among these. Teen readers can take heart from Jonathan and Adam's story, especially if they care about Walt Whitman as a gay icon.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A love story, a therapy session, a reason to read Whitman - the sweetness of unexpected amour is here, as is the saline of sadness...Your reason to root for love—and the power of the pen.

Booklist (starred review)
This is an absolutely extraordinary work of fiction that proves the epistolary novel is an art form. Kurl and Jo are characters to die for, emotionally compelling and empathetic. Their quotidian lives are riveting and their story unforgettable...not to be missed.

Author Blurb Julian Winters, author of Running with Lions
We Contain Multitudes is an emotional journey, both heartbreaking and healing. A true love letter to the way family, friendships, and first loves slowly peel away our carefully constructed walls to the layers beneath. Henstra's words are a universe I never want to escape.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Young Adult Epistolary Novels

letter

Epistolary novels have a long tradition in literature, and even young adult novels like Sarah Henstra's We Contain Multitudes have gotten in on the act. Given their younger audiences, however, authors writing for teens often incorporate new technologies or other clever twists on the epistolary form. Check out a few of these examples of YA novels written in letter form!

ttyl by Lauren Myracle
Lauren Myracle kicked off her Internet Girls series with this groundbreaking 2004 novel written entirely in the style of online instant messages. This form of communication (with its numerous acronyms and shortcuts) might seem dated these days, thanks to autocomplete and other improvements in online communication, but Myracle's novel (and its ...

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