Review: Heartstopper by Alice Oseman

I’ve been slowly collecting Alice Oseman books since 2019 when I first read the Heartstopper comic online. I spent three days staying up late as my heart just broke and was mended over and over again when I first discovered Charlie & Nick’s story, and, since then, I’ve been preordering each new volume of the published graphic novel. I haven’t continued reading online because I love the format of a book, and it’s so much easier for me to remember what’s going on when I’ve got a full chapter in front of me rather than relying on myself to remember week to week. I returned to Heartstopper in 2020, both to prepare for the third volume coming out, and because I really needed a pick-me-up. And here we are again in 2021! This year, I’ve finally finished acquiring every Alice Oseman book ever, and though I’ve only read Heartstopper, I’ve set out a stack of her books next to my bed, and I’m planning on just grabbing one every couple of weeks and slowly making my way through the universe. This will likely be my only separate Oseman review, though, because it’s Pride, and what better time to talk about some of my favorite queer joy?

The first volume of Heartstopper is a lot of things. My instinct was to call it adorable, and while it is definitely that, it also makes my heart ache. While I didn’t go through the same kind of what’s happening to me nerves & fear that Nick does, I can so easily put myself in his shoes anytime I think about trying to tell someone. Though all of my friends know, almost none of my family does, and it’s a weird thing to do, hide away the parts of yourself that make you want to burst with joy. And while I do love Charlie, it’s always been like looking into a mirror with Nick, and he’s undeniably my favorite character.

This is, truthfully, no surprise to me given that I’ve been writing characters like Nick–big, goofy, quick to smile–for my entire career, and I’ll always be drawn to them again and again. Nick, however, was the first time that I think I really understood why I like those types of characters, and it’s been such a wonderful journey the third time around watching him discover that straight is not, and should not be, the default. The path he walks, through uncertainty and a little bit of hopelessness, is such a reflection of what so many people experience, and it’s so beautiful to see that in something so popular. I was about to talk about how much I love getting to see the other side of that journey, too, when Nick starts to discover joy alongside the fear, but that’s getting ahead of myself because volume one ends on a cliffhanger!

Gosh, the artwork that Oseman employs in those last several pages, with Charlie surrounded by stars and Nick surrounded by flowers, is just gorgeous. It’s so indicative of both of their characters, and it’s got such a beautifully romantic vibe to it. Like, old-fashioned romance where the wind sweeps you off your feet and the birds are chirping with delight. I just love these two so much, and getting to see them move through uncertain acquaintances to friends to maybe something more? I really need to focus on another review that’s due long before this one posts, but boy, do I want to reread the next volume of this right now.

Ughhhhhh, YES, getting to the good stuff! I love finally being in a place where Charlie & Nick are exploring their relationship, but my goodness does my heart break for Charlie at the beginning of this volume. He truly believes that Nick has no feelings for him, that Charlie guilted him into kissing him, and it’s so realistic, which is probably the worst part of it. Of course he believes that. He has no reason not to, and he’s been bullied in so many horrific ways that he thinks this is just another, and worse, form of that bullying. Because why wouldn’t he? All indications point to Nick being straight and them just being friends, to the point where Charlie’s friends are worried about him, and Nick is definitely giving off mixed signals, so of course Charlie freaks out.

And poor baby Nick! I didn’t realize quite how much I identified with him until this time around, and he almost breaks my heart more than Charlie does. He’s just a whole other level of freaking out because literally everything he’s believed up about himself to this point is being called into question, and it just changes everything. And it shouldn’t be that scary, Nick shouldn’t be wondering what’s wrong with him simply for having a crush on another boy, but that’s the reality for many people, and Oseman just did a fantastic job of depicting that.

But once all that is over, once these two idiots are finally starting to go on dates and just learn to be together, once Nick is beginning the journey of self-discovery and Charlie is breathing a little easier, they’re finally afforded some real joy together with no pretenses, and it’s just beautiful. I love these books so much, and while I’m excited to be here, at last, with them together, I think volume two might be my favorite. I love seeing the beginning of relationships, and while the beginning of theirs is certainly rocky, it just feels like a warm hug when they finally realize that they both like each other. I’m excited to see what comes next, but wow do I love seeing them begin.

Goodness, this was just wonderful. I forgot that this volume takes place entirely during the France trip, and it’s just a delight to see our boys wandering around museums in shorts and backpacks, being total dweebs together. And it’s just so fun to see the whole gang together on a trip! I loved getting to see Nick meet Charlie’s friends, but I am so excited for Nick to finally come out to his friends and for Charlie to hang out with them more. I just want both of the friend groups to slowly come together until it’s this giant gang of chaos. I’m definitely going to be reading the fourth volume very shortly, too, in the hopes that that’ll hopefully be happening very soon!

There’s so much good and bad in this volume, and it breaks my heart in so many different ways. It’s such a joy to watch Nick & Charlie lean on each other in times of uncertainty, to know that the strength they share will hold them up, and I’m so curious to see how that’ll continue to unfold in the next volume. Because there is sure to be a lot of angst coming, what with the way this volume ends. Between Charlie wanting to tell Nick that he loves him and Nick starting to move on from worry to straight fear for Charlie is going to mean a lot of upheaval, and I can’t wait to see them keep each other afloat through it all.

And gosh, but even if this is heavy at times, Oseman manages to handle all of it beautifully. Whether it’s Nick coming out to Charlie’s friends and a whole group of people, or Nick softly trying to help Charlie with his food issues, Oseman is so careful and tender with their relationship, and with each of them individually. I just adore getting to see these two slowly build a foundation of strength and love, and I’m so eager to see them be an absolute power couple in the next volume.

Oh gosh, this tried to do me in. I knew that this level of angst was coming, but I don’t think I was really actually prepared for it, and wow. This volume is heavy. There’s a lot packed into this, and it took me a lot longer to read because of that. I still did it in one sitting, but I took a few breaks to just scroll mindlessly through my Insta feed and play my game a little before getting back to this. Honestly, the way that Oseman told this part of the story just felt so right. That we see everything unfold not in real time, but as a reflection, almost gives Charlie more agency over everything that’s happened because the story is fully his to tell now rather than a story that’s happening to him. He’s come out of a really dark place and is able to look back and put into coherent words what’s going on with him. To see it all from Nick’s point of view was so important, too, and I’m so glad that we got to see everything he was going through, mentally, while he was trying to help Charlie. I was just so impressed with the way everything was handled in this volume.

And wow, but these boys sure do like to break my heart. Their love is so special and sweet, and I hope to goodness that they stay together forever. It has been a true delight to watch their story unfold over the course of these four volumes, and though I’m really sad that the fifth one will be the last, I’m also so excited to see how everything wraps up! I know that it’ll have a happy ending, and that I’ll be able to see them as cameos in future Oseman books, or even just in mini-comics that she does, for which I’m really glad. And though I am heartbroken, not stopped (someone should stop me, honest to heck), that this is coming to an end, I’m also glad. Oseman has a clear arc that she’s aiming to tell, and I like that she’s bringing it to a conclusion rather than continuing to stretch it out.

I loved this volume for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones was its depth. Much of Nick & Charlie’s relationship has been very light and sweet, and while there have definitely been some rather difficult moments, they’ve never experienced something as traumatic as this, and watching them navigate all of the bad together makes me love them even more when we get to see them surface from that bad. And though I’m under no impression that they’re anywhere near putting it all behind them, Charlie’s right. Having gone through this, being there for one another, and coming out enough that they can see the other side has made them stronger, and I’m so eager to see where they go from here.

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she/her | yoga teacher | Tibetan Buddhism | part-time witch | full-time author | astronaut in a previous life

5 thoughts on “Review: Heartstopper by Alice Oseman

  1. I recently started reading Heartstopper earlier this year and I’m in love! I totally get what you mean when you said that it’s both adorable yet heartbreaking. Great reviews!

    Liked by 1 person

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