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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 teen 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.

©2019 Sarah Henstra (P)2019 Hachette Audio

Critic reviews

"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." (Kirkus, 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." (Booklist, starred review)  

"...as a medium for reporting day-to-day occurrences and conveying intimate feelings and classic themes - love, lust, and betrayal, among others - the letters shine." (Publishers Weekly

What listeners say about We Contain Multitudes

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Highly Triggering

This book is great. The plot is well written, the representation is great and it I realistic.
However, I have a huge complain with a large amount of the story. The story contains many many instance of hate crimes and physical abuse from a parental figure and PTSD. That's normally fine however this book has no trigger warning anywhere to be found and so, when it suddenly shows up it can be immensely triggering for people!
And it was!! Every time I tried to listen I would be in turmoil as I felt the need to read it because I enjoyed the story but there was slowly more and more triggering content that I was not warned about.
This caused me to go on a few months long break before the final chapter. Due to the break, finishing the book made me feel unaccomplished and generally pointless.

This is the only reason I have rated it so low. It is immensely damaging to people with these triggers and it not like they are uncommon triggers.
My review would probably by 5 stars if it was not for the lack of warning.

Please, if you intend to read it, not that it contains:
- hate criming / homophobia
- Physical abuse (adult abusing child under care)
- PTSD from the mentioned abuse

(Also the scene where clay was trying to get back with Jo kinda rubber me the wrong way. He was kissing an touching him and Jo game no clear consent and the whole scene felt heavily manipulative of clay??)

3 people found this helpful

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Unenjoyable

This book is a perfect example of why straight people shouldn't write book's about LGBTQIA+ relationships. The charcters come off as annoying and selfish with little redeeming features. The format is a good idea, letters are a great way of telling a story but, its slow and drawn out. about 1/4 of the book could be cut and make a more enjoyable reading expirence.

3 people found this helpful

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Couldn’t finish it

I have tried multiple times to get through this book but it is so drawn out and bland that I simply couldn’t enjoy it

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I loved this

I absolutely loved this book! So many moments that had me feeling so many things. Such a different way to write a story and I loved how it went.

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A sweet love story

I really loved this book and I found it both believable and relatable despite it being a long time since I was the age of the two main characters. I really became invested in their developing relationship and was rooting for them. The voice actors do an excellent job and l'd have no problem reccomending this title.

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An incredible book made even more beautiful and painful

The voice actors deserve all the praise. Their expert narration brought Henstra’s masterful writing to a new height by turning the book into a sort of cinematic experience for the listener.

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Emotional Journey

I loved the majority off the characters and loved the whole aspect off them falling in love through a simple piece off paper. Thank you Sarah Henstra for creating such an amazing book.

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Just lovely!

Really interesting way of moving plot and characters by having them write letters to each other. Also, any book that quotes Walt Whitman so often deserves 5 stars!

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Beautiful

Hooked from the first chapter! I could not stop listening to this book. The rush of Joy when A.K and Jo are together and the tears when not. Absolutely loved it!!!!!

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Beautiful

what an utterly gorgeous book. I loved it so so much. thank you so much.

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  • Robert Jason
  • 15-05-19

A lot to like here, but...

The format of the story, ie: letters, really dilutes the story overall. Every letter, or most, becomes more about moving the plot forward than being a genuine heart-felt moment of revelation or discovery.

The writing is at times very beautiful, and the characters are wonderfully fleshed out (thanks to excellent narrators), but they never really jumped off the page for me and I think that is because of the way Henstra chose to tell this particular story. There have been a great many letters saved from history between lovers that tell interesting stories. I suspect those letters fascinate us not because their writers told us the plot, but showed us something about humanity, emotions like love and desire. Even for a YA title, the letters never get above luke-warm.

There is something that works here, particularly Kurl's journey of discovery, but there's also a lot missing here.

And, one of my biggest complaints in general about titles like this is wondering why women(and straight men) are telling the stories of gay men and boys. Perhaps that is the ingredient missing. I'm not sure. Nothing against Sarah Henstra, but I wish more gay writers would tell their stories. Authenticity matters. So does representation.

Still, overall, WCM has it's moments even if those moments never really shine as bright or reach their full potential due to the constraints of the format.

13 people found this helpful

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  • Jay
  • 09-07-19

Lovely, passionate epistolary novel...but

I'm a sucker for happy stories. I'm a sucker for weird gay kids because I was one.
This story can be compared to Call Me By Your Name in the emotional heat that it produces. The pivoting on Walt Whitman renewed my interest in the poet.

Here's the "but"
The quiet angry abused older writer (Curly?) metamorphised too rapidly, too completely, too transformatively (if that's not redundant). While still be regularly abused he took on superhero status. And what person writes a letter to the person they had sex with describing (blow by blow, figuratively speaking only) what happened. It's a contorted use of the epistolary style to provide narrative. And what teacher gives this kind of assignment that has no adult review to help facilitate growth? And what assertive, openly gay, intelligent, precociously insightful 10th grader allows himself to be mercilessly bullied without getting the support of his supportive dad, his teachers and other adults in the environment? This takes place in 2016. I was a teacher in high school in Florida prior to this time (I've since retired). This would not have gone unnoticed by the professional staff in Florida, let alone urban Minneapolis.

Yes, I did suspend belief. Yes, I would read other books she wrote.

To the person who wrote that he can't understand women and straight men writing gay literature, I've asked myself the same question so I thought about it. I'm not sure that's not a form of homophobia, For example Yaoi is a genre of fictional media originating in Japan that features homoerotic relationships between male characters. Writers aren't always writing novels that are cloaked autobiographies or we'd have few horror or mass murder novels.

This book was a journey or two journeys for two complex, loner youths. I cried and I was in the characters' corners cheering them on. OK, I just changed my score on the story from 3 to 4.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Frimet G.
  • 05-12-20

Just don't read this

The age gap between the protaginists is beyond uncomfortable considering that one of them is a freshman and the other is a senior who was held back. That means that one I can assume to be 14 or 15 and the other could be 18 or 19. There is also a scene in the book in which the freshman's sister has sex with the senior. The senior was under the influence of alcohol and is described as barely conscious. The freshman forgives his sister immediately for essentially assaulting his boyfriend, but he can't seem to forgive his senior boyfriend who, I will repeat, was drunk. This book just made me extremely uncomfortable in every way possible. Please for the love of everything, do not listen to this audio book.

7 people found this helpful

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  • LeAundra Jones
  • 17-05-20

Gorgeous story!!!

I loved it! And I'm not usually into the whole YA romance theme. Gorgeous storytelling.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Lance
  • 17-10-19

Great voice acting

Cannot commend the voice actors enough. The story was heart wrenching and beautiful at the same time. My only complaint is that the letter format the story is based on feels out of place in certain places. Overlooking that it is perfect

2 people found this helpful

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  • Ray Paramo
  • 26-08-19

A Wonderful Concept; Not the Best Execution

Henstra's 'We Contain Multitudes' composes a very intriguing and interesting concept: two boys meet over the course of a penpal assignment in English class, ultimately help one another through various difficulties, fall in love... the story is an enjoyable and heartfelt one, albeit riddled with some tired high-school cliches. The novel's epistolary (letter-writing) format, however, just didn't work for me. The letters were far too detailed and expository to be realistic and, in many ways, felt like they only existed to forward the narrative. I do want to praise the audiobook's performances; both narrators did an excellent job of portraying Little Jo and Kurl. Though I wasn't the biggest fan of HOW the novel was told, I can say that I ultimately still enjoyed it for what it offered. If you're on the fence, and you're a fan of the epistolary format, this novel may be for you.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Dissatisfied Customer
  • 14-04-21

It Gets... Worse

The beginning of this book was beyond wonderful. I wanted to give it fifteen stars... out of five. I was ready to weep for joy at the beauty I was reading and the unique method of storytelling employed by the author. While I continued to enjoy the book, the first hint that things weren't perfect came when I realized that she was moving the plot along quite unnaturally by having the main characters tell each other in letters what they'd just finished saying to each other, and what they'd just finished doing together. A bit of that might have worked. But this went on for hours. Though the way she advanced the story was a bit tedious in and of itself, the story was still worth listening to.

But about halfway through the book, any darkness that was hinted at began to take center stage. A good gay-themed book tells the reader (and in this case, the reader might well be a teen) that it gets better. But the only message I as an adult was receiving was that it gets worse... much worse. Abuse, bullying, betrayal, abandonment—it was all there in spades. The hopelessness I felt until the final chapter was haunting.

I am sure that Ms Henstra sees herself as some kind of ally. She probably thinks she was doing the gay community a favor by writing this novel. The fact that she inserted half-assed redemption in the end probably made it all okay, she was probably thinking. If so, she was dead wrong. If, in order to get to the good stuff at the end, an adolescent has to go through this kind of torture and pain, then there are probably many who might listen to this book and decide it's simply not worth it. I cannot recommend this book at all. It's simply painful.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Donald Knerr
  • 26-06-20

this was a very extraordinary book beautifully wri

I love this book doing a beautiful love story that heard nearly enough those two boys are so beautiful I will miss them thank you for this

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Kindle Customer
  • 07-01-20

Soooo good

This book is just amazing. The plot and characters are so intriguing and I could not put the book down.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • elise
  • 18-08-21

One of my favorite books

I don’t typically enjoy books written in a letter format. However, I loved this book. I recommend reading it as a hard copy, not as an audiobook— it’s better that way, but the audiobook does the job if reading isn’t an option.

Both main characters are sweet and multi dimensional, while also following a pretty classic couple pairing. It has a funny and sweet coming out, and some intense barriers throughout. I felt like the ending was a bit cheesy, but the rest of the book was good enough to make up for it.