A Multitude of Poignant Letters

We Contain MultitudesWe Contain Multitudes by Sarah Henstra

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Thank you, Hachette Book Group, for giving me a finished copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Anger is a relatively small thing, Kurl. We are large, remember? We contain multitudes. — Jo

Have you ever found it hard to forgive fictional characters for the terrible things that they do to each other? Even though the actions of your beloved protagonists don’t necessarily affect you, you hate it when they get hurt because of their stupid decisions. This mental struggle nearly dominated my reading experience. Kurl did something so terrible to Little Jo, and I wanted him to suffer. Sadly, my wish wasn’t granted. For me, this is one of those rare cases of unlikable happy endings. I’m a little bitter, but you can rest assured that I can see the bigger picture.

Since We Contain Multitudes is an epistolary novel, you might think that it’s a quick read. However, it took me almost a month to finish this book. Although the chapters/letters are brief, their contents are very emotional or substantial. In their correspondence, Kurl and Jo talk about harrowing things like bullying, anger issues, and PTSD. Personal letters are best enjoyed slowly, and that applies to this piece of fiction. Nonetheless, if you want the pain or melancholy to be over as soon as possible, go ahead and speed-read.

From the very beginning, Kurl and Jo had tough lives. For instance, the former had significant issues with his stepdad (who also happened to be his uncle), while the latter was ostracized (persecuted) in school. Thankfully, their situations gradually improved with every letter that they sent to each other. Soon, a mere class requirement became a means of catharsis, their lifeline in a sea of despicable people.

Since I used to enjoy sending letters to my parents, I strongly resonated with the characters’ dependence on traditional, written communication. Compared to text messages or online chats, snail mail is definitely thoughtful and worthwhile. You have to spend money on postal services, so you have to choose your words wisely. Kurl and Jo did just that. It came to the point that they developed their literary skills or voices. It was so funny when Jo “berated” Kurl for not using quotation marks when including dialogues in his letters. Little did he know that Kurl was also a talented poet. xD

For the most part, Kurl and Jo’s face-to-face interactions were sweet and delightful, especially when their benevolent family members were present. The tension only became bad whenever Jo wanted to know Kurl’s secrets. Kurl had a temper, and he almost hit Jo because of it. I somehow got over my irritation, but all of it returned when that horrible party happened. It was the only time I hated Kurl. He did have to pay for what he did. However, I realized that Jo was merciful to a fault. Maybe this is why other readers gave this book two stars.

In totality, We Contain Multitudes was beautifully yet poignantly written. Its collection of letters played with my emotions; I smiled and almost cried (in sadness and anger). The ending did not please me, but at least it reiterated the value of forgiveness. Resenting someone does feel good, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right.