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We Contain Multitudes

Narrated by: Matthew Gouveia, Tony Kim
Length: 9 hrs and 15 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (120 ratings)

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Publisher's 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

"...[Hentra's] skill lies in painstakingly depicting each boy's slow move toward vulnerability until a smoldering, secret romance begins. 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." (Shelf Awareness)

"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)

"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)

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  • Overall
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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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Recommend

I don’t even know what to say. Please read it. Laugh. Cry. Punch the wall. This book undid me.

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A Pleasantly Surprising Find

A lovely story. A unique perspective into the realism and humanity of relationships as a whole. I found myself sometimes caught in moments of “I would never make this choice,” and “this seems like a reasonable choice.” The unveiling of each character’s voice through epistolary methods, growing clearer and being brought more sharply into focus with each new later is creative genius at its finest. Furthermore, it explored the depths of personal pain. Something I’ve been struggling with recently myself, and gave me a different perspective from which to look at and address it. It was funny, thoughtful, heart wrenching, and inspiring.

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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.

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Loved It

This book! Wow! I was on a rollercoaster of emotions. You won't be disappointed! Read this book!

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Beautiful piece of work.

I feel in love with the character, one of the best stories I’ve read in a long time. Had me going through a full range of emotions throughout the story.

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Ice cream you need Ice cream

This book has me in the both best and worst emotions. have you ever wanted to cry but cry cause your sad or made for a charcter of a book that's fictional? if you haven't you are missing out. I dont know what made me want to cry more the emotions where everywhere in the book and I Loved it! every letter every chapter I wasnt almost in tears I was beaming with the charcter. this emotional trip drains you a s I suggest icecream to help. 10 out 10. thank you .

ps I ranted in the last 7 mins to my sister about this book and how annoyed I was going to be if the last 5 mins were thank you for listening to blah blah blah.... it wasnt thank you♡

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wonderful

such beautiful story, an emotional rollercoaster had my heartstrings tugging at every letter all the way through the book.

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Simply beautiful

I deliberately slowed my reading. Postponing for as long as I could. Coming to the end. If you loved Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Then this book is for you.

Smart. Moving. Deeply Romantic. It awakened the poet I never knew I had in me. A true masterpiece of raw affection. And how love can hurt and move mountains at the same time.


It is a novel every young gay man should read at least once. And every not so young should read until his heart beats like that of a teenager who just discovered love for the first time.