Heartstopper, vol 1: 4.5 stars
Charlie, a highly-strung, openly gay over-thinker, and Nick, a cheerful, soft-hearted rugby player, meet at a British all-boys grammar school. Friendship blooms quickly, but could there be something more…?
Charlie Spring is in Year 10 at Truham Grammar School for Boys. The past year hasn’t been too great, but at least he’s not being bullied anymore. Nick Nelson is in Year 11 and on the school rugby team. He’s heard a little about Charlie – the kid who was outed last year and bullied for a few months – but he’s never had the opportunity to talk to him.
They quickly become friends, and soon Charlie is falling hard for Nick, even though he doesn’t think he has a chance. But love works in surprising ways, and sometimes good things are waiting just around the corner…
For my birthday this year, my BFF Lydia (I miss you, babe!) sent me the first three volumes of Heartstopper, which I hadn’t even heard of before, but have come to realise has become quite the big deal. Beginning as a web comic, where the author managed to kickstart enough funds to self-publish the first volume, she now has a publishing deal with Hachette UK. The comics are also available to read online in a number of places before they’re collected in paperback.
Charlie and Nick, the protagonists of Heartstopper, first appeared in one of Alice Oseman’s YA novels, about Charlie’s older sister. I’d not read anything by Oseman before now, but based on these sweet and heart-warming comics, I need to check out her YA fiction as well.
Volume 1 of Heartstopper shows us Charlie and Nick at school and show us their growing friendship, which develops into mutual infatuation (although it takes a long time for the two to admit it to one another). Charlie seems to be the only openly gay pupil at his school and faced quite a lot of bullying when he was accidentally outed the previous school year. Now, he’s not really being directly targeted but doesn’t exactly feel confident. He keeps hooking up with Ben in secret but is starting to realise that Ben is just toying with him, and has no intention of leaving his girlfriend or coming out as bi.
Charlie has a few close friends but isn’t exactly popular. So he’s rather wary when handsome Nick Nelson from the rugby team asks him to try out for the team. Apart from being a very fast runner, Charlie isn’t exactly an athletic star, but he discovers that he’s quite good at rugby, and the other boys on the team seem to accept him. Of course, Charlie’s crush on Nick is pretty immediate, but Nick is straight and nothing can come of it, so he just pines in silence, occasionally venting to his friends.
To begin with, Nick just really likes spending time with Charlie, but comes to realise that he’s spending more and more time with the younger boy. He feels like he can be entirely himself in Charlie’s company, something that isn’t always the case in high school. They keep hanging out, mostly alone, and Nick needs to start re-assessing what he believed about himself and who he’s attracted to.
This volume contains chapter 1 and 2 of Nick and Charlie’s story, and ends in quite the cliffhanger.
Heartstopper, vol 2: 5 stars
Nick and Charlie are best friends. Nick knows Charlie’s gay, and Charlie is sure that Nick isn’t.
But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is discovering all kinds of things about his friends, his family … and himself.
Heartstopper is about friendship, loyalty and mental illness. It encompasses all the small stories of Nick and Charlie’s lives that together make up something larger, which speaks to all of us.
Thankfully, Lydia sent me all three volumes, so I could dive straight into the second one – no waiting. Charlie and Nick get over the confusion and awkwardness at the end of the first volume, and decide to see where things are going. Nick isn’t really ready to openly admit to his same-sex attractions yet though, and Charlie is terrified that Nick might face anything like the bullying he himself did last year, so the boys agree to keep their relationship secret.
Charlie’s friends have noticed how much time he’s spending with Nick, but since they don’t know how far the relationship has actually developed, they’re worried that Charlie is just torturing himself by spending lots of time with a straight boy he can never have.
Heartstopper, vol 2 deals with Nick’s realisation that he’s probably not entirely straight, since all he wants to do is spend time with Charlie and kiss him constantly, to making peace with the idea of being bisexual and coming out to someone. Chapters 3 and 4 are even sweeter and this is an even more heart-warming volume than the first.
Heartstopper, vol 3: 5 stars
In this volume we’ll see the Heartstopper gang go on a school trip to Paris! Not only are Nick and Charlie navigating a new city, but also telling more people about their relationship AND learning more about the challenges each other are facing in private…
Meanwhile Tao and Elle will face their feelings for each other, Tara and Darcy share more about their relationship origin story, and the teachers supervising the trip seem… rather close…?
Coming out is a gradual process. Just because Nick has told one family member that he’s bisexual and Charlie’s his boyfriend, doesn’t mean that he’s ready to be out to the whole world yet. Nevertheless, he and Charlie start gradually telling some of Charlie’s friends. In this volume, which is one long chapter 5, the boys’ school is going on a trip to Paris along with the neighbouring girls’ school, where several of their friends go. Being limited to all-girls’ or all-boys’ rooms is a lot less of a problem if you’re dating someone of the same gender as yourself.
Charlie has held off telling his friend Tao about his relationship with Nick, mainly because he suspects the reason he was accidentally outed all over school a year ago is that Tao spoke a bit too loudly about him on one occasion, and the news spread from there. However, Tao is the last of the friend group to know Charlie and Nick’s real relationship status, Charlie can’t really keep the secret any longer. There is briefly some hurt feelings, but Tao is preoccupied with his own crush and fairly quickly forgives Charlie for keeping secrets.
Charlie and Nick keep discovering new sides to the other, and Charlie confesses some of how difficult the time during his bullying was. He confesses to having self-harmed on occasion. Spending whole days in one another’s company, Nick also starts noticing how little and how infrequently Charlie actually eats and begins to be concerned about his boyfriend.
These comics are really well-told and drawn and the cast keeps being gradually expanded to include more of Nick and Charlie’s friends and family members. The books are effortlessly diverse, both in terms of race, gender identity and sexual orientations. I don’t know if Alice Oseman herself is queer or if she just does a lot of research, but she seems to write a very realistic and respectful depiction of what coming out gradually actually entails, as well as the trauma that can be caused by bullying and harassment. The teenagers depicted here feel very real, and behave in believable ways. I can see why this comic has become such a success.
Now that I’m all caught up, I’ll have to wait for the release of volume 4, which isn’t out until May. I guess I can check out some of Oseman’s other books while I wait.
Judging the books by their cover: It took me quite some time to find an image featuring all three covers. I like that the boys are facing away in all three images and that you see how their relationship changes and develops over the course of the series, from platonic school friends with mutual crushes in the first one to a tentative couple in the second and more confident, open boyfriends in the third.
Crossposted on my blog.