Charlie has been out of the closet for a year, and has faced some bullying at the British all-boys’ high school he attends. His classmates seem to be over it, and Charlie is finally disentangling from a toxic relationship situation. Maybe this year will be better? But not if he manages to fall in love with a straight guy. And Charlie’s new friend, the big-hearted rugby player Nick, is totally straight. Isn’t he?
Nick has heard of Charlie—who at their school hasn’t?—but never really hung out with him before this year. Now they have a class together, and it turns out Charlie is pretty cool. Plus, after seeing him run during gym class, Nick convinces Charlie to join the rugby team, where he fits in better than either of them expected. Lately, they’ve even been spending time together outside of school. Nick feels different when they’re together than he does around his other friends. He’s only had crushes on girls in the past, but could Nick be falling for Charlie?
Heartstopper is a sweet love story with a relaxed pace and a strong sense of atmosphere. This first volume invites the reader into crisp autumn days on campus, followed by snowy frolics and cozy cuddles inside as winter sets in. Against this comfortable backdrop, Charlie and Nick slowly become friends and begin to question whether they might want to be more.
As the author explains in a note at the front of this book, Heartstopper began with two side characters who appeared in the author’s debut YA novel, Solitaire. Charlie and Nick caught the author’s imagination, and she went on to develop their backstory into a popular webcomic. This book is the first of the print volumes collecting that webcomic.
The art is expressive, with simple backgrounds leaving the focus firmly on the characters. Varied panel layouts give the pages a dynamic feel, as do the elements outside the panels, like the autumn leaves and snowflakes that swirl around the edges of many pages. For the print adaptation, the grayscale art of the webcomic has been redone in a two-tone color scheme. It still uses black for outlines and very dark areas, but now the shading is done in a soft blue-green instead of gray.
While most of this book is slow-moving and gentle, there is one situation that introduces some urgency and conflict: Charlie’s in-progress breakup with closeted classmate Ben. Ben used Charlie for secret make-out sessions, but never respected him. And now that Charlie doesn’t want to be his side piece anymore, Ben isn’t taking it well. Luckily, Charlie is no longer a bullied outcast at school. He has lots of friends who support him, none more fiercely than Nick.
This volume is set mostly at school, its cast populated largely by the students of Truham Grammar School for Boys, though we do get a few cameos from Charlie and Nick’s family members. There is a little swearing, including some f-bombs, and a few fraught situations, mostly involving Ben. For the most part, though, this volume is a sweet will-they-or-won’t-they romance—or, at least, the first part of one, given that the story ends in a clear “to be continued” situation. There are currently three volumes out, with at least two more in the works.
Heartstopper comes with a built-in fanbase, thanks to the webcomic. It will surely win lots of new readers, too, especially among fans of Bloom by Kevin Panetta, Check Please by Ngozi Ukazu, Fence by C.S. Pacat, and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki.
Heartstopper, Vol. 1
By Alice Oseman
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Traits: Gay, Bisexual
Related to...: Book to Comic