Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 14 to 18
- Grade: 9 to 12
An exhilarating and emotional LGBTQ story about the growing relationship between two teen boys, told through the letters written to one another. For fans of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and I’ll Give You the Sun.
Thrown together by a zealous English teacher's classroom-mailbox assignment, notorious scrapper, Adam "Kurl" Kurlansky, and Jonathan Hopkirk, a flamboyant Walt Whitman wannabe, have to write an old-fashioned letter to each other every week.
Kurl is a senior, an ex high school football player, held back a year, while Jo is a nerdy, out tenth grader with a penchant for vintage clothes and a deep love for poetry. They are an unlikely pair, but with each letter, the two begin to develop a friendship that grows into love. But with homophobia, bullying and familial abuse, Jonathan and Kurl must struggle to overcome their conflicts and hold onto their relationship, and each other.
About the author
- Nominated, Pacific Northwest Young Readers Choice Award
- Nominated, White Pine Award
SARAH HENSTRA won the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award for her novel The Red Word (ECW/Grove). She is also author of the YA novels Mad Miss Mimic (Penguin Random House Canada, 2015), which was named a CLA Best Book for Teens and a finalist for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People, and We Contain Multitudes (Penguin Teen/Little, Brown, 2019). Sarah is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at Ryerson University in Toronto.
Excerpt: We Contain Multitudes (by (author) Sarah Henstra)
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 offamous 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 then poor Khang looks all disappointed when we’re disappointed that it turns out to be only a mailbox. Which is the whole problem with buildup. Well you’ll see it foryourself pretty soon I guess.
On the board it says Introduce Yourself. So my name is Adam Kurlansky and this is Grade Twelve Applied English. One of the courses I flunked last year, which now I’m regretting because this assignment is not something I’m all that interested in. A letter every week for the entire semester. *JO stands for Jerkoff in case you were wondering. I’m sticking it here in the middle of the letter instead of at the top because Khang wants us to hold up the paper to show her before we put it in the envelope. To prove we actually filled the minimum one page, since she’s not actually planning on reading our letters herself. If she asks me I guess I’ll just say JO is short for your name, Jonathan.
Don’t take it the wrong way. I figure it’s fair game to call you a little jerkoff even though I don’t know you personally because I was one too, as a sophomore. Only most likely not as little. I was already pretty close to my full height by then: six foot three.
I mean I see you all in the halls with your faces turning red whenever I catch you staring at me. You’re like these arcade gophers popping in and out of holes. People know who I am because of being a bunch of credits behind and not graduating and having to come crawling back for the so‑called victory lap. Or not because of that. More likely because of football I guess. Because they decided to let me keep playing football.
One of BookRiot’s 25 Awesome 2019 Queer YA Books to Preorder Right Now
One of CBC’s 29 Canadian Kids Books & YA to Look For in Spring 2019
One of Booklist's Top 10 Romance Fiction for Youth 2019
One of BookPage's Best Young Adult Books of 2019
One of Quill And Quire’s Honorable Mentions for 2019 Books of the Year for Young People
One of CCBC's Best Books for Kids & Teens 2019
One of CanLit for Little Canadians' must-read Canadian YA books
PRAISE FOR We Contain Multitudes:
"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.” --Siân Gaetano, Shelf Awareness, Editor (Children's and YA)
"The title of this book is incredibly fitting. Jonathan and Kurl are two complex and fascinating characters, and they instantly drew me into the world created by their letters and their love. It's an astonishing romance and character study that also happens to be full of gorgeous writing." --Robin Talley, author of Lies We Tell Ourselves and Pulp
"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." --Julian Winters, author of Running With Lions
“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. . . . [This novel] is not to be missed.” --STARRED REVIEW, Booklist
“Sarah Henstra has crafted a nuanced text that is heartbreaking, hopeful, poetic, and captivating, creating a literary space for two seemingly disparate young men to forge a bond and discover that they each truly do contain multitudes!” --Highly Recommended, CM Magazine
“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.” --STARRED REVIEW, Kirkus Reviews
“A stunning, stylish, sensitive novel.” --Resource Links
“Henstra’s latest is certainly multitudinous: worth reading, enjoying, interrogating.” --Quill & Quire
“. . . [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.”-- Publishers Weekly
“ . . . an epic, sweeping romance — and gay teens deserve more of those.” --The Horn Book