Initially viewed on an online webcomic called Tapas, HeartStopper has a vast online fanbase of over 50 million views, not counting the numerous new fans who are relishing in the new Netflix adaptation of the series, all from the power of crowdfunding. I will write up individual posts for each volume, so stay tuned for Vols 2-4! Spoilers are ahead, so if you haven’t read the books, go away and do so before returning.
Here we shall see two stories, individual but united about potential unrequited love, hard work, and determination, so let’s dig in!
The author, Alice Oseman, has brought to our bookshelves and televisions a story that harkens to the classic Romeo and Juliet, where two lovers must not show their love for one another through family feuds of the time. HeartStopper is similar, as Oseman explores the level of acceptance that today’s society holds for people in the LGBT+ community, among young people and how this societal issue has developed over time.
Let’s take a look at each book, one by one!
In the first volume, we see two young lads who meet each other at school and are in the same form group, sort of thrust together with an initial interest in one another and sports. Charlie is the first boy we are introduced to, and we find out early on that he’s gay and was ‘outed’ the previous school year. He had to endure bullying because of being gay until the school’s 6th Formers ended the bullying.
The second boy is Nick, a straight rugby lad who calls everyone ‘mate’ and seemingly has no interest in boys, but we see a spark form in him when he thinks about Charlie throughout this volume. Nick makes friends with Charlie, who fancies Nick pretty much from the start and encourages him to join the rugby team; Charlie passes tryouts and enters.
As their friendship grew, I felt excited to watch them grow closer together and feel more comfortable around each other, where they enjoyed hanging out together. This forming of their friendship was genuinely very sweet and natural; having worked in many educational settings, I know this is how young people make friends, and it felt genuine for the story. Whilst reading this section of the volume, it felt really nostalgic for me, as I remember staying up late to text my online crush at the time, trying to flirt but appear cool at the same time – it was hard work! But the accurate depiction on paper was so familiar to me, that it was almost overwhelming.
Reading on, there is a character called Ben, who acts as Charlie’s co-dependent crutch, an issue many people have experienced. Having Ben as the ‘bad guy’ character was a great idea to encourage Nick and Charlie to come closer together and ignite more emotional feelings about each other, and it flowed well. We see Nick deflect comments about Charlie being gay and defend him, which made me think that Nick is the friend we all need in our corner, and it was so refreshing to see this in a book: young people supporting each other.
This volume role models the behaviours we expect to see in a healthy friendship. Yes, there is an element of non-acceptance of Charlie being gay from Charlie’s POV, but Nick does help him see that being gay is normal and that he is accepted… which solidifies his feelings for Nick even more. Heck, even Nick is feeling like something’s changing for him.
The relationship between a straight and gay character was exciting. It made my heart flutter with excitement, and I was glad that this relationship issue is now not as ’embarrassing’ to talk about with young adults as they were when I was younger. Oseman looks at relationships straightforwardly, but I feel that this communicates the message to the reader regarding the appropriate way to deal with LGBT+ issues.
Throughout the volume, Nick’s running theme is questioning his sexuality. He explored his feelings by talking with his mother and using the internet to see what other people have experienced, a healthy way of finding information. The book did highlight that questioning what someone’s sexuality is is really personal, and Oseman showed that it should be private. It’s no one else’s business, and I’m so glad this was communicated healthily.
The approach to drawing a comic book to discuss these sensitive and personal issues, I felt, was really positive and meaningful. Education through pictures has always worked well with young adults and children, and I think the approach to HeartStopper being in this format benefits everyone.
When I read the volume, I kept saying “awww” and “Yes! That’s exactly it!” because explaining these complex issues through text is much more complicated. I felt this was communicated excellently. Authors risk overdoing it and thrusting their point down people’s throats when it’s meant to have a meaningful understanding. A full-length novel might have been too heavy for HeartStopper and put people off, whereas a cute comic is accessible to everyone.
I would recommend this volume to young adults and adults who want to know more about LGBT+, as I think it’s an important issue that needs to be normalised. The characters work well together; they have believable interactions and eventually admit their feelings for each other, which was really sweet and very cute to watch. They share an awkward kiss, which Charlie feels silly about as he still thinks Nick is straight and not into him! But when Nick kisses him back, and- uuuggh! The ‘feels’ this volume gives, and I was ‘shipping’ them all the way through.
This gives the reader cute vibes, and I was gripped from beginning to end. I couldn’t not continue to read through the volumes; I was already invested! I am eager to finish the series and cannot wait for the next instalment, so as I mentioned above, I will see you then!
HeartStopper Vol 1 Summary
Theme: These books are young adult contemporary fiction and may contain information about the LGBT+ community, which young or vulnerable children may not understand.
Description: It may be a good idea to discuss the book once the individual has finished, to explore their feelings and to answer any questions they may have. This volume would be a valuable tool to introduce to your child if they have any questions about their sexuality and to any adults who want to be further educated to see what life is like to others in the LGBT+ community. Some sexualised content is appropriate for older children of at least 16+.
Narration: The volume is a comic, not a wordy novel. The topic is more relevant and approachable for younger people and communicates complex or essential issues. We see the world from the point of view of the two main characters, Nick and Charlie, who share an equal amount of the story. No one character dominates the plotline. This makes the story balanced and the reading smooth.
About the Author
Alice Oseman is an award-winning author, illustrator, and screenwriter, and was born in 1994 in Kent, England. She has written four YA contemporary novels about teenage disasters: Solitaire, Radio Silence, I Was Born for This, and Loveless. She is the creator of LGBTQ+ YA romance webcomic Heartstopper, which is now published in physical form by Hachette Children’s Group. She is the writer, creator, and executive producer for the television adaptation of Heartstopper, which is set to be released on Netflix.
Alice’s first novel Solitaire was published when she was nineteen. Her YA novels have been nominated for the YA Book Prize, the Inky Awards, the Carnegie Medal, and the Goodreads Choice Awards.
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Alice Oseman website
Netflix – HeartStopper
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