Perfect for fans of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and I’ll Give You the Sun, We Contain Multitudes by Sarah Henstra is an exhilarating and emotional novel about the growing relationship between two teen boys, told through letters they write to one another.
It gave us all the feels—just looking at the cover makes our hearts beat faster. We love it, and we’re sure you will too. Here’s a sneak peek with the first two letters our heartthrobs Jonathan Hopkirk and Adam “Kurl” Kurlansky wrote to each other.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 27, 2015
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 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 for yourself 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. 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.
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2015
May I call you Kurl? From what I’ve overheard in the halls and absorbed from the general atmosphere of this school, the nickname “Kurl” is used nearly universally in addressing or referring to you, so I assume you’re content enough with it. You don’t know me, of course, but I do know a bit about you by reputation if nothing else. When my older sister, Shayna, started ninth grade, she tore the photos of the football and basketball teams out of the Lincoln Herald and put them up in her room. Then she set out to memorize all the players’ names, not because she was a particular fan of those sports but because she surmised—correctly, I believe—that members of the football and basketball teams would be the key tastemakers in the Abraham Lincoln High School social scene, and back then she was still interested in keeping abreast of that scene. This was prior to Shayna becoming best friends with Bronwyn Otulah-Tierney and entering her Age of Skepticism, as our father, Lyle, calls it.
We haven’t discussed it in so many words at home, but I would say that my sister has moved further in the last year or so, to what I’d call an Age of Nihilism. Sleeping all day, staying out late, greasy hair, plummeting grades, glowering. I wonder if this state of existence rings a bell for you, Kurl, if you’re repeating courses this year? Did you have an Age of Nihilism? What comes after it?
Anyhow. I have a very clear memory of these team pictures. I was twelve years old and would assist Shayna by quizzing her on the players’ names, so I would probably still be able to greet many of those boys by name if I met them in the hall—but of course most of them have graduated by now. You were one of the younger players at the time; I suppose you would have been a sophomore, one of the little jerkoffs you mention in your letter.
I remember your picture in particular because you were one of only two boys who played on both the football and basketball teams. Adam Kurlansky, the photo’s caption read, but Shayna referred to you as Kurl. Hearing my sister say it—there was a kind of reverence in her voice, or at least a deep respect—I immediately sensed the power conferred upon its bearer by a good nickname. I’ve been “Jojo” to Shayna and Lyle on and off since I was a baby, but that was obviously not going to suffice in the context of high school.
I began testing out possible new nicknames for myself. I asked my father to call me “Kirk” from that day forward. Lyle was really generous about it, but after attempting it for a day or two he said it was too strange for him because Hopkirk is his last name, too. When Shayna caught wind of my nickname quest, she informed me that it doesn’t work that way, that one never, ever gives oneself a nickname, that one has to simply be admired and beloved enough for a nickname to magically be conferred upon one by one’s peers. And even back then—even in seventh grade—I knew I would never be cool enough to warrant a nickname. So Jonathan it is, or JO, I suppose. (A confession: I saw your Dear Little JO and, for approximately five seconds before noticing your asterisk and dropping my eyes to the middle of the letter, I did imagine it might a pet name for Jonathan. Nonsensical, of course. Why would you give a nickname to someone you have never even met?)
I just asked Ms. Khang if I could finish this letter at home and deposit it in her mailbox first thing tomorrow morning. She said that although I’m always welcome to write additional and/or supplementary letters in my spare time, I have to turn this one in now to avoid the “perils of lost or reconsidered correspondence,” as she put it. She smiled in a secretive way when she said it, so I suspect she was quoting from one of her favorite eighteenth-century novels. My apologies for the abrupt ending, Kurl.
From Ms. Khang’s list of “Acceptable Salutations” on the blackboard I will choose the one that resonates most closely with my personal philosophy—something I will have to explain in a future letter.
Jonathan “Kirk” Hopkirk (I know, I just can’t quite pull it off, can I?)
Jonathan Hopkirk, a Walt Whitman fan, and Adam “Kurl” Kurlansky, a football player, 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 familial strife, Jonathan and Kurl must struggle to 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.