LGBTQIA+ books are extremely important as the world opens its eyes to the queer population that is starting to speak up. The past hasn’t always been kind to anyone who isn’t cisgender or heterosexual so media platforms making LGBTQIA+ more “normal” and seen is crucial for many homosexuals especially for the LGBTQ+ youth who are finding themselves. So when a new LGBTQIA+ book comes out it’s exciting and reminds the world of the new open future, unless the book is one big stereotype.
We Contain Multitudes is a YA novel written by Sarah Henstra in 2019. The novel was selected as a White Pine book for 2020. Since it was selected as a White Pine book many students read the book and many schools promoted it. This book is listed as an LGBTQIA+ novel, which the world needs more of, but when the book is closely examined it is quite clear that it’s “A book made by a straight woman for straight women.” The problem with privileged authors writing about minorities is an ongoing problem seen for forever with books such as Winnetou, Curious Incident Of The Dog in the Night Time, Remains of the Day, To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Help, and many more.
The main plot of We Contain Multitudes is a romance between Jo and Kurl. The romance starts on their first day of English class when their teacher assigns her Freshman class and Senior class to write notes to each other. Jo and Kurl are assigned as pen pals and write each other weekly letters. The boys soon develop a relationship and start talking outside of the letters. The boys help each other through homophobia, family issues, school problems, mental health issues, and more.
From an outside perspective, the book sounds almost charming and many people who read it have enjoyed it but when you open your eyes to the stereotypes and large problems this book has it becomes less charming and more repulsive. One of the main problems is the age gap between the two protagonists. Kurl is 18, which is a legal adult and Jo is 15. The age gap is disgusting as is but the age gap can be targeted to a large stereotype of gay men, you may have seen this present in many media forms but when a young gay man and an old gay man form a relationship (typically sexual) in media the roots from a large stereotype of age gaps between gay couples.
One of the biggest stereotypes of gay men is how much sexual intercourse they have. The community is oversexualized and many forms of media have shown this throughout the ages. Henstra clearly also believes this stereotype as she writes about the boy’s many sexual encounters with each other in great detail. This stereotype has lead to many homophobic comments as when people only see a sexual aspect of a whole community it is deemed as licentious instead of what it is, a normal relationship.
A large problem with the book that isn’t a stereotype is the way it was written. The book is written in letters from the boys to each other but by the ¼ part of the book they meet and interact with each other, yet they still write letters to each other summarizing each interaction. It is weird to read two people reciting all of their interactions with each other to each other. The letter format would have been a great way to write the book if the boys had never met.
These are just some of the reviews that state the many problems with this book:
“If I could rate this book lower, I would. Finishing this book physically pained me, it made me cry (not in the good way) about three times. There’s something about a straight woman writing a gay relationship that is just so TELLING about how they view the community. This is so far off from being an accurate relationship of a gay couple. They are SO over sexualized in the WEIRDEST way possible. The age gap made my skin crawl and I made an account just because the fact that this book has an almost 4/5 stars should be illegal. I finished this book purely out of spite and if I could make sure no young gay kid would ever read this again, I would.
Things hat made me want to take a Mellon baller to my frontal lobe in no particular order is the fact that:
– they have sex multiple times in public
– the relationship is so over sexualized
– the armpit scene exists (no I don’t want to talk about it)
– Kurt was basically raped by Jo’s sister but no one wants to talk about that
– the AGE GAP for NO REASON
– ? Them being together after the summer is so unrealistic because Jo is 3 years younger than KURT?? What are they possibly going to do after the summer program
-the abuse of Kurt that is SO poorly handled
– the compulsory heterosexuality forced into the plot
– they both treat each other terribly, everyone in this book does.
– I wasted 15 dollars and two days on this book
– Shayna was turned into a complete a**hole
– the writing style of Jo
– the story telling method made no sense.
The only good character was Bron, and I’ll stand by it.
The fact of the matter is, this book was made by a straight woman for other straight women. She had no intention of wanting to give accurate or good representation for the community, because this whole book is stereotype after stereotype.”
-“Fish” On GoodReads
“This book sucks and I’ll deeply offended that it has 4/5 stars, which tricked me into wasting $25 on this hot garbage. I wish straight women would stop thinking they can write books on what it’s like to be gay, while also making it a purely sexual ordeal and just really letting the reader know loud and clear that they believe gay relationships are so sexualized and not just… normal relationships.
Some things that I found particularly made me wanna rip my eyes out, in no particular order:
-All the pro military propaganda shoved in
-How the letters didn’t even seem like actual realistic letters replying to each other but random things shoved together, like not even in a stream of consciousness kind of way it was just so weird and irrelevant
-The age gap between the characters, i mean really, 15 and 18? I’m supposed to think that’s ok?
-The armpit sniffing scene (IT SOUNDS AS BAD AS IT WAS)
– Ah yes my pen pal let me describe to you the entire interaction we had today in this letter, because that’s completely normal I’m very tired, very irritated, and ultimately very disappointed. I literally made an account just to post this review.”
– “Jenna” On GoodReads
The book We Contains Multitudes is hardly an LGBTQIA+ book as it fuels the fire to the stereotypes homosexuals have been trying to break for a long time. The age gap and over-sexualization of the couple is not appropriate and can hurt a young gay child’s perspective of who they are. It’s always been hard to come out and have stereotypes thrown on you so when a book that claims to be an LGBTQIA+ book does it as well, is it really all that gay positive? At the moment many schools (including JCR) and libraries are promoting this book as a gay-positive book that people should read, so I hope that this article can help anyone who has been hurt reading this book to know that those feelings are valid and it’s not a true representation of the gay community.
Henstra, Sarah, and Reviewer: Andrew Woodrow-Butcher. “We Contain Multitudes.” Quill and Quire, 7 May 2019, quillandquire.com/review/we-contain-multitudes/.
Random House, Penguin. “We Contain Multitudes by Sarah Henstra.” Penguin Random House Canada, 2019, www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/566532/we-contain-multitudes-by-sarah-henstra/9780735264236.
“We Contain Multitudes by Sarah Henstra.” Goodreads, Goodreads, 14 May 2019, www.goodreads.com/book/show/41716953-we-contain-multitudes.