Heartstopper: Volume One
by Alice Oseman
Spoiler Alert: Adam Carlsen has always liked Olive, even when she didn’t know who he was.
Insight Into Heartstopper
In some ways, Heartstopper feels like a cheat for a review. Yes, it may count towards my yearly book goal on Goodreads—and thank goodness because I am struggling this year—but it’s also a graphic novel. How much could there be to discuss about Heartstopper: Volume One? Apparently, quite a bit.
Like many people, I was first introduced to Alice Oseman’s world through the Netflix show of the same name. I didn’t have any interest in graphic novels, other than occasionally supporting webcomic creators I knew of, so in the most sacrilegious way: I watched the “movie” before reading the book. It ends up, however, that I loved the show and would therefore have to purchase every piece of literature attached to it.
Spoiler-y Plot Summary
Heartstopper: Volume One follows shy and socially awkward Charlie Spring, the only outed boy at Truham Grammar School for Boys, after he meets Nicholas Nelson. Nick is largely the opposite of Charlie. He’s an athletic rugby player (this is set in the UK if it isn’t obvious) whose personality mirrors a golden retriever. This division makes Charlie initially skeptical about Nick, believing that he may be like the boys who bullied him after learning he was gay in the year prior.
This tension, however, is broken after Nick has a pen explode on him and needs Charlie’s help opening doors to and from the bathroom. There, the two share jokes, mostly at Nick’s blue-handed expense, and bond over their shared experiences with teachers. This cheerful mood is dampened when Charlie receives a message from Ben, his sorta-boyfriend, who berates him for 1) not showing up when he asked to meet and 2) not answering his texts.
Later, Charlie meets up with his friend Tao who is confused by Charlie’s budding friendship with Nick. Tao comes to the realization that his friend has a crush on the “rugby lad” after Charlie defends his friendship despite how different they are. Charlie, of course, denies this and reminds Tao that Nick is probably straight. If it’s not already obvious from every other detail the author provides thus far, this is untrue.
Nick and Charlie continue to grow closer, especially after Nick discovers that Charlie possesses his own athletic ability: running. This leads Nick to invite Charlie to join their rugby team since they’re required to have another player to compete. Nick takes it upon himself to teach Charlie the rules and techniques of rugby. After one of these lessons, Charlie meets up with his sorta-boyfriend turned ex-sorta-boyfriend Ben (caused by the discovery of Ben’s girlfriend). Sensing Charlie’s sour mood, Nick follows him.
At this meetup, Charlie finally unleashes his frustration toward Ben about being forced to hide their relationship and Ben not caring about his feelings. In response, Ben begins kissing Charlie while he attempts to get away. This is only interrupted by Nick pulling Ben off Charlie and forcing Ben to leave.
The boys continue to grow closer as Charlie confides in Nick about his relationship with Ben. This causes Charlie to have a solidified crush on Nick. They begin hanging out outside of school, playing video games, meeting Nick’s dog (Nellie), and attempting to teach Nick how to play Charlie’s drums. It’s in the latter moment that Nick, after being in close proximity to Charlie, feels the first stirring of a crush. He experiments slightly by almost holding his hand during a movie but is ultimately unable to muster the courage. Instead, he turns to Google to ask, “am i gay?” Obviously, at this point, Nick is very, very confused.
Weeks later, still with many questions, Nick invites Charlie to a friend’s party. At the party, Nick is dragged away from Charlie by his awful friend Harry to see Tara Jones—a girl people assume he likes. She tells him she doesn’t have feelings for him, which he reciprocates, and she adds that she couldn’t because she has a girlfriend. Noting that he’s been hanging out with Charlie a lot recently, she tells him that she’s there for him if he needs to talk. From there, Nick tells off Harry for making a homophobic remark and searches for Charlie.
He finds Charlie in a busy room, but they choose to head to a secluded room to talk. Here, Charlie asks about Tara and upon learning that there may be someone else, he asks (albeit disheartened), “What’s she like then?” To which Nick responds, “You’re just gonna assume they’re a she?” With this monumental moment, the two share a kiss after a brief discussion…only for Nick to be called away, leaving Charlie to his insecurities. This, cruelly, is where the author leaves the first volume of Heartstopper. Their storyline continues for the next three volumes of Heartstopper with a fifth expected in December of 2024.
Analysis: Should You Read It?
Overall, this book is lighthearted and sweet. I appreciate that the author doesn’t throw in any dramatic, unwarranted plot points just for the sake of adding tension. In this way, Alice Oseman is a unicorn because her book truly feels like a coming-of-age story rather than a Euphoria-esque dramatization. Because of this, Heartstopper is a book in which you’re able to focus on the characters rather than an overarching plotline and, as the plot IS the budding relationship, this is especially true.
The author did a great job in creating main characters that were believable, each having their own unique personalities. Charlie, especially, is a standout due to his relatability through anxieties and self-deprecation, both of which every person has experienced at some point or another. Whether the reader has gone through experiences similar to his or not, his emotions still feel distinctly real. This effect is made more miraculous due to the book being a graphic novel, because there is less insight into the character’s mind and yet it doesn’t feel like you know him any less than you would otherwise.
The only gripe I have with this volume of Heartstopper is that characters outside of Nick and Charlie feel a little undersold. Tao, for example, only appears for two “scenes” and each of them includes the topic of Charlie’s friendship with Nick and his crush. While Alice’s side characters are more developed in future volumes, this gap does stand out in her first. Despite this, the focal point of the Heartstopper volumes is Nick and Charlie, so the issue is nearly negligible.
If you enjoy this graphic novel, I suggest checking out Crumbs by Danie Stirling, which is another lighthearted graphic novel. And, of course, don’t forget to check out the show on Netflix! The second season came out on August 3rd, 2023.