We Contain Multitudes by Sarah Henstra
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on May 14th, 2019
Genres: LGBTQIA, Young Adult
“Anger is a relatively small thing, Kurt. We are large, remember? We contain multitudes.”
ARC received via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but come on. Look at this gorgeous cover! It reminds me of the cover art for We Are Not Okay by Nina LaCour. So based on that, I really had high expectations for this novel. I know, it’s terrible of me. But I can’t help it!
We Contain Multitudes is an epistolary novel. Jonathan Hopkirk and Adam “Kurl” Kurlansky are partnered up in English class and begin writing letters to each other in a weekly pen pal assignment. Through these letters, we see that the two form an unlikely friendship that evolves into a relationship. But with growing up, homophobia, bullying, and family secrets, they struggle to find themselves and hold onto their love for each other.
This has all the makings of a novel that I’d fall in love with and want to recommend it to everyone. Unfortunately, I don’t think the letter format was the right choice. And that’s essentially the whole book that I had an issue with.
It didn’t really make sense in my mind that these two teen boys live in the same town and attend the same school are writing to each other. It plays off fine in the beginning since they don’t interact with each other in person, but then it gets weirder and weirder. Suddenly, they’re writing down the dialogue of the conversation they had with each other… to each other in the letters. Realistically, would anyone want to read a letter that’s a play-by-play of a conversation they just had?
I wish Henstra would’ve broken the letter format sometimes just so we could have witnessed the scenes play out before us. Some of the most emotional scenes, such as the twists and the secrets really lost their impact because of this.
Having said that, I think Henstra did an excellent job changing up her writing style to reflect the personalities of Jo and Kurl. Henstra wrote some beautiful sentences and the references to Walt Whitman’s poems were wonderful (even if they got to be very annoying later because they were so constant).
Even though I liked seeing Jo and Kurl come into their own through these letters, I was disappointed by the lack of development in the minor characters. I wanted to know more about Shayna, Lyle, and Uncle Vic. They appeared on the page as stock characters who were the stereotypical side characters.
I do think that this book achieves the same feel as Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and I am Not Okay, but I don’t think We Contain Multitudes can be considered on the same level as them. I felt more engaged with the characters from the other books.
I probably wouldn’t recommend this to people. I think that there are other books that deal with similar subject matters that were written much better. But this wasn’t by any means a terrible book. It just wasn’t for me.
Having said that, I was satisfied by the ending and the last page of the book was very heartwarming. And that doesn’t always happen with books! The ending can be a total let-down, but I felt like we achieved some closure on Jo and Kurl.