Falling in love is easy, working on a relationship on the other hand, not so much.
The premise of the graphic novel Heartstopper, authored and illustrated by the versatile Alice Oseman, is simple: boy meets boy, boys become friends and boys fall in love. This much is inferred from the blurb of the graphic novel and one could be fooled into thinking that this is just another cheesy romance book. Oseman’s leads’ journey starts off in an idyllic sort of way in that their initial interactions adhere very much to the cutesy romcom trope where two people meet and things just seem to sort of fall into place.
There are hurdles along the way, of course, but as a reader you expect them to be overcome easily. This is a romance book after all. This is where Oseman thrives: in meticulously and empathetically portraying the obstacles a young person has to overcome while they come to terms with their sexuality, and how the world perceives them.
The story begins with Charlie, a British high school student already out to his family and the rest of the world, joining a new class in the new year. Here he meets Nick, a senior, whom he instantly finds attractive and just pleasant to be around. He wonders what it would be like to be in a relationship with someone, specifically Nick, and how he would even navigate something like that. As readers, we get to see them spending time together and getting to know each other. With time, Nick also starts to question his understanding of his own desires and eventually comes to the realisation that he is bisexual. The boys tell each other how they feel and so commences a beautiful love story.
Most other material, whether it comes to literature or cinema, ends once the main characters go through their phases of infatuation and land on epic declarations of love. With Heartstopper, it’s only the beginning. There are definitely moments that will make the reader go ‘awww’ but Oseman takes it a step further and delves into Nick and Charlie’s universe as a young couple.
The themes explored in the novel are heavy but are dealt with immense delicacy. Soon after the boys get together, they are confronted with the realisation that Nick now needs to come out to his family and friends. While Charlie never expects or puts pressure on Nick to come out, Nick himself is burdened with the idea of having to do so. They wonder if they can continue being together in secret and if so, for how long.
Charlie, on the other hand, has his own demons to deal with. Having faced severe bullying when he had come out (or rather had been found out), Charlie has, unbeknownst to anyone else, developed an eating disorder. The novel charts how the young couple deals with this, and more importantly what Charlie has to do to overcome his issues.
The joy of Heartstopper is watching these two boys comprehend, through their adventures together, that sometimes love from just one person isn’t enough and sometimes love itself is not enough. As young queer people, they understand that the sense of belonging with their chosen family is just as important as what they have with their own biological families. The cast of characters that surround Nick and Charlie include their parents and siblings and maybe, more importantly, their friends. Tara and Darcy are an interracial, lesbian couple within this circle that also includes Elle, a trans girl who soon finds love with Tao, Charlie’s best friend.
Multiple other queer characters are introduced through the run of the series, which includes students and teachers, and not one of them feels forced or out of place. They all are rightfully there, just like in real life.
With only one volume left to be released and a Netlfix adaption already out, Heartstopper is sure to melt your heart. Not only will you cheer for the wonderfully amazing cast but also shed a tear or two along the way. Nick and Charlie aren’t perfect, but their story is and that is why you need to read this one.