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 teens 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.
*I received a free advanced reader’s copy of this book from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and The Novl. This did not influence my review of this book in anyway. This is an honest review of the novel as I saw it. This novel will be released on May 14, 2019.*
I love epistolary novels and Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, so when I saw We Contain Multitudes comped to AADDTSOTU and that it was told in the form of the letters I was immediately sold. Thankfully, this novel did not disappoint.
My favorite thing about epistolary novels is that they dive pretty straight into the plot, because of course the author has to explain why the novel is being told this way and Sarah Henstra handled it perfectly. We began with Adam “Kurl” Kurlansky called Jonathan Hopkirk Little JO. If you thought JO was short for Jonathan you’d be mistaken. Instead it was short for Jerkoff, because that was how Kurl envisioned all sophomores, which JO was. The reason for their letter writing came through their English teacher, Ms. Khang. She started a project in which the students in her Grade Twelve Applied English class (Kurl) would write letters to the students in her sophomore English class (JO). I loved the concept and Kurl’s opening letter, so I was immediately hooked.
What I loved most about these pair of characters was how incredibly different they were but how they also had a number of similarities. JO was a gay student who was 100 percent out of the closest and wore what his sister’s BFF referred to as “Walt Whitman cosplay.” Unfortunately, this caused JO to be bullied in school by people whe called the “butcherboys” a term he pulled from a Whitman poem. In case it wasn’t clear, JO was a big fan of Whitman.
Differently, Kurl was a football player until he recently walked off the team. He was known around school for getting into fights and having to retake classes. For the most part, Kurl kept to himself and he was a hard person to read. Thankfully, through letters Kurl began to open up to JO and vice versa, sparking a friendship that gradually grew into something more.
However, while the two grew closer they were both still dealing with issues both at home and at school. Henstra did an excellent job of tackling a variety of heavy topics, including domestic abuse, homophobia, bullying, PTSD, and more. They way in which Henstra weaved this story together through Kurl and JO’s retelling of events, sometimes having one start the story and the other finish it, was brilliant.
My only critique, and I’m not sure I’d even say this really is one, is you have to kind of give yourself over to the story and not question it too much. There were moments when I found myself wondering how realistic it was that Kurl or JO would take a moment out of what they were doing to pen a letter to the other, especially when things became very high stakes in the present. However, I was able to push past those questions because the book was just too good for me to care much about the logistics of it all.
Thus, overall, I’d say this is a must-read novel. I absolutely loved it and would personally like to chuck it in the face of everyone I know while I yelled, “Read this book immediately, or else!” In sum, buy this book.
Borrow or Buy: See above.