Author: Alice Oseman
Genres: Graphic Novel, Young Adult, LGBTQIA+
Pub. Date: Feb. 2019 (read Apr. 2022)
Heartstopper has been on my TBR for literally years, so the new TV show was what I needed to finally read it – that and I was able to get all 4 volumes at once from my local library. I read Radio Silence a few years ago and really liked it, so I knew I would like this, especially based on all the hype.
I admit, it did take me a little bit to warm up to the story. I wasn’t immediately sold on the artwork or the characters because I felt like not a lot happened in the first volume, but the story very quickly grew on me in subsequent volumes. I wrote part of this review before watching the show, but decided to hold off on posting it until I’d seen it, and I’m so glad I did, because I am now 100% obsessed and invested in this series!
I like that Oseman addresses issues which a lot of teens struggle with – not just in terms of figuring out your sexuality and coming out to your friends and family, but also in regards to mental health. The first 3 volumes are extremely feel good. It’s what makes the series and the show such a triumph. We know that Charlie had a very hard time coming out and we are repeatedly subjected to homophobic characters, bullies, and micro-aggressions, but at its core, this story is a joyous celebration of queer love.
It’s filled with a diverse cast of characters and for every bully, there are multiple loving and supportive characters. Many people have very difficult experiences with coming out and I feel like there’s already a lot of trauma porn about those experiences, so I appreciated Heartstopper for its lighthearted approach, that coming out is also something to be celebrated and doesn’t always have to be a negative experience. Nick still struggles with identity, but I liked that his experience contrasted to Charlie’s and that isn’t it beautiful to have allies and safe spaces in which to open up about who you really are.
For this reason, Nick really wormed his way into my heart, especially thanks to Kit Connor’s portrayal in the TV series, which I thought was phenomenal (all the performances were excellent, but I particularly loved Kit’s). He’s a very soft character, unsure of himself in some ways, and very sure of himself in others. Mostly I just loved his self-awareness, which I think is even more pronounced in the show and I liked the subtlety in how Kit portrayed Nick’s internal conflicts. His fear that he’s treating Charlie the same way as Ben, when in reality he’s just taking the time he needs to figure out his own identity.
Why I think this series and show is getting such universal approval comes down to how centered in reality it is. These kids act like proper teenagers and I appreciate the show so much for deciding to cast actual teens in all their awkwardness. So many depictions of high school settings are so overly dramatized and sexualized, I felt very grounded by this depiction of high school, which is what makes it so relatable to any individual, queer or not. I also have to acknowledge that my initial comment about how not a lot happens in the first volume is actually part of what makes the story so lovable.
We get three whole volumes just about coming out, identity, and self discovery. Coming out is not just a one-time thing, it’s something gay people have to do over and over again. Likewise, identity and self discovery are an ongoing process, and the more I think about it, the more I appreciate that Oseman dedicates the time and space to this exploration. For straight people, learning that someone is gay is a one-time thing, you adjust your perception and try to be supportive (hopefully), but for these queer teens, it is an ongoing and monumental thing to manage. So I appreciate that Oseman gives it the gravitas it deserves and makes her entire narrative a celebration of that process.
I only mention the first 3 volumes because the 4th volume is a bit of a departure from her initial themes. It is darker and explores some of the more challenging struggles that teenagers often face, including depression, eating disorders, and self harm. Like many teenage relationships, in their all-consuming passion, Charlie and Nick begin to develop a bit of co-dependency and their families quite wisely advise them to focus on balance in their lives. Charlie learns that he can’t ignore all of his issues and Nick has to come to terms that he can’t be the one to fix all of Charlie’s issues either. Both characters still need to be able to stand on their own two feet and take responsibility for their own struggles. It doesn’t mean they can’t support and be there for one another, but each needs to take ownership over their own mental health as well.
I thought there was only 4 volumes, so I was a bit disappointed when I couldn’t finish the series in one go, but I’m stoked I still get to look forward to spending more time with these characters. I whole heartedly recommend both the graphic novels and the Netflix series to everyone!