Friday, 9 August 2019

ReadItDaddy's YA / Teen Graphic Novel of the Week - Week Ending 9th August 2019: "Heartstopper (Volume 1 and 2)" by Alice Oseman (Hodder Children's Books)

Our YA / Teen Graphic novel of the week is actually two GNs - Volume 1 and 2 of a rather touching love story - A love story between two teenage boys.

If that's the sort of thing that you don't really want to read about, fine, hit the back button on your browser, unsubscribe, wash your eyeballs with lye, whatever.

But we're going to talk about "HeartStopper" anyway, so buckle up and prepare for something far more captivating than your average bromance.

Charlie is gay, no doubt about it, and as he joins a new school he ends up sitting next to Nick, the epitome of the chisel-jawed rugby hero. What could the two possibly have in common?

Strangely though, the two become friends, but for Charlie that friendship is obviously something else. It's a mind-blowing heart-stopping crush that seems doomed to failure from the start.

His sister tuts, as do his friends. "You fell for the straight boy! You idiot!" they chide, but then something happens that gives Charlie a tiny teeny flame of hope worth fanning, as it begins to become all too apparent that Nick might have developed feelings for him too.

After a pretty nasty confrontation that more or less cements this belief, the story shifts in focus from Charlie to Nick, who then has to deal with a whole load of new feelings of self doubt.

Could Nick actually be bisexual? He likes girls, but he REALLY likes Charlie. Maybe more than just "Likes".

One thing's definitely for sure, Charlie REALLY loves Nick's pooch Nellie (well, who wouldn't!)
In volume 1, the story sets out to introduce the characters and set up the interplay between them, but then in volume 2 things kick up a notch and we really begin to discover the depth of feeling that Charlie and Nick have for each other, and how it's put to the test in literally every aspect of their young lives.

Alice's acute observations of what it's like to go through those tempestuous teen years when you're not sure of anything, and spend a lot of time wondering what life is all about is tempered by a gay love story that's truly beautiful to behold.

Whether you're gay or straight, you'll definitely remember what those first few weeks of falling in love are like, and that's something Alice captures so perfectly here. All the little nuances and details that, to outsiders, mean absolutely nothing but to the two people at the heart of it, it's their lifeblood, their bread and butter, the air they breathe.

I'm pretty aware I'm not the target audience for this, yet it's the sort of thing that gives an old ragged straight white bloke a bit of hope that there are amazing and above all NICE people in the world, and those people sometimes get the sort of mind-blowing spine-tingling love that they deserve.

Alice's story is fab, her clean visuals are stylish, almost like fashion sketches crossed with manga, but utterly perfect in "Heartstopper" and so brilliantly scene-setting with each twist and turn in the story.

There are moments of conflict too, as you'd expect - and whether purposely or not, Alice actually underplays these quite a lot so far in the first two volumes (with volume 3 due next year).

I remember when my brother came out to me as a young teen and it was a bolt out of the blue, but somehow I'd always suspected. He was a LOT like Charlie, and I think Alice maybe missed a trick with describing what it is like to admit to your friends and family who think you're one thing, that you're actually something entirely different - but still the same person inside (if that makes sense).

Such a ridiculously cute moment that it makes your heart sing!

Homophobia is also underplayed here quite a bit, and I wonder if the upcoming Volume III will make more of this, as I think it's something that all teens going through the same things as Charlie and Nick will (sadly) have to put up with and be mentally prepared for, from folk who just can't get their heads around love being universal, regardless of sexual preference.

I must admit that this is the first set of Hodder-published Graphic Novels I've seen, and if this is the sign of the direction they're going to move in with their teen fiction, then I'm all for it, as this is a joy-filled and brilliant read and you just cannot help rooting for Charlie and Nick throughout. Very much looking forward to Volume III.

Sum these books up in a sentence: A brilliantly depicted and thoroughly absorbing love story between two teen boys, tackling the complications, awesomeness, pitfalls and euphoria of what falling for someone head-over-heels is really like.

"Heartstopper (Volume 1 and 2)" is out now, published by Hodder Children's Books (kindly supplied for review).