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.
Thank you to Little, Bown Books for Young Readers for providing me with an ARC.
This book comes out May 14, 2019.
I think the cover of this book is beautiful, it’s what made me interested about it. A pet peeve of mine when it comes to people on the cover is that sometimes, they don’t look like the characters in the book. This cover however achieves putting the two main characters on it. You know exactly who is who because the artist really stayed true to the individuality these boys have.
I didn’t know much about the plot going into this book. I knew that the book was in a letter format and as the reader, I was going to get a look at these two boys’ life through these letters. It didn’t take me long to become entranced with the writing style as well as the plot.
We have Adam “Kurl” Kurlansky, the start football player in the high school, who had to stay an extra year to re-take some classes he failed. Everyone thinks they know him but in reality, he puts on a mask while with others. He works for his family roofing company. Then we have Jonathan Hopkirk who is a nerdy sophomore obsessed with Walt Whitman, to the point where he dresses like the poet. He gets bullied and doesn’t have many friends. They get to know each other through a penpal program done by their english teacher and it slowly goes from strangers to friendship, and then to romance.
I really love the romance and the fact that two people so different on the outside end up not being so different once they got to know each other. They helped each other reach their full potential and let them come to terms with who they are.
There are a lot of hard hitting topics that Henstra touches on including bullying, domestic violence, and drug addiction. She does this gently but it still makes an impression on you as you read. I think in Kurl’s case, she could’ve delved deeper into his heritage (he’s Polish) and the connection between masculinity and the culture/religion. I’m Polish so I’ve had a first hand look at how (old) Polish culture can hurt family relationships. I think she could’ve definitely talked about how being gay is considered a terrible sin in Poland, especially because it’s stated that Kurl is first generation American so these thoughts wouldn’t have been weeded out through past generations.
I also wish that the drama at the end wasn’t done though because it added absolutely nothing to the story. I don’t like it when sex is used as a plot point and in this book, this issue is never resolved or spoken about again. It was just frustrating, especially because it happened so randomly in the last 100 pages.
Adam “Kurl” Kurlansky ended up being a wonderful character. He’s grown up in a terrible environment and is the youngest of three boys. His brothers are older than him and by the time he reached high school, they were living their own lives. He got stuck in a dark hole and couldn’t find his way out until Jonathan came along. There could’ve been more done with his cultural background as I mentioned before, but I think this shows how important a support system is. A lot of people feel like burdens if they unload their issues on someone else but in the end, friends are there to support you. It’s important to understand that your feelings and problems are not things to be hidden, but shared.
He does make stupid decisions and again, the drama that happens at the end felt a bit out of character for Kurl. He’s one of those guys who looks tough and will get tough if someone he loves is in trouble, but on the inside he’s a gooey teddy bear.
Jonathan Hopkirk seems the complete opposite. He dresses in vintage suits and shoes, even to school and he cries easily. He’s not on any sports team but sings bluegrass like his dad. He and his sister are close, but their relationship gets tested in this book. I think he’s really interesting and a good balance for Kurl.
This book has a lot of elements but they don’t overwhelm each other. Some things could’ve been analyzed more but in the end I really loved this book. I read it in one sitting and could not put it down.