Vermont Humanities

Vermont Reads 2021: We Contain Multitudes

Boy on We Contain Multitudes cover
Vermont Reads

Our Vermont Reads choice for 2021 is a novel in letters. It tells the paired stories of two very different teenage boys who are initially reluctant to participate in a pen-pal assignment from their high school English teacher, but ultimately grow well beyond the boundaries of the school project to share earth-shattering revelations about themselves and their families.

The novel contains many strands relevant to current community conversations including economic disparities, how veterans return from war, domestic violence, opioid addiction, bullying, and coming out. But lest it sound too heavy, it is also a beautiful story of friendship, poetry, coming of age, and aspiring to move beyond social expectations.

We were delighted to welcome Vermont Reads 2021 author Sarah Henstra to Vermont in April! View her conversation with Vermont high school students about We Contain Multitudes.

Sarah Henstra is a professor of English at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, and the author of two previous novels, Mad Miss Mimic and The Red Word, which won the Governor General’s Literary Award in Canada.

Author Sarah Henstra

We Contain Multitudes is a novel of brave heart, told with snap and style. As the protagonists write mandatory letters to each other, we come to realize the letters are also both to themselves as writers—to chart their maturing—and to us as their unseen champions.

Sarah Henstra says she was inspired to write We Contain Multitudes by her own teenage kids, and how they communicate with each other and their friends, especially around complicated issues. She succeeds in capturing the wonderful, difficult, scary, joyful, and curious events that make up the lives of the two main characters, teenagers Jonathan Hopkirk and Adam Kurlansky.

As a bonus, the novel is also a lovely interweaving of the work of two great figures in American arts and letters – 19th century poet Walt Whitman and rock superstar Prince.

Boy on We Contain Multitudes cover

I wonder, Kurl, when you look in the mirror, do you ever get to see the unguarded face?  Because I wish you could.  It’s a wonder to behold. 
Yours truly,

From We Contain Multitudes

We Contain Multitudes is a book that definitely contains multitudes. It is about love, friendship, survival, loss, grief, bullying, family/domestic violence, a veteran’s PTSD, and a growing relationship between two boys. For some participants, these multitudes may be challenging.

Vermont Humanities has partnered with three Vermont organizations to help you navigate the themes of the book in your community. Vermont Reads project hosts can receive one free presentation from one of these organizations. They’ve also compiled a list of helpful local and national resources.

Vermont Reads Supporters

Vermont Humanities is grateful to the underwriter of Vermont Reads 2021, Jan Blomstrann, and for the support of the Jack & Dorothy Byrne Foundation.

Vermont Humanities*** April 5, 2021