The Rainbow Library Volume One: Heartstopper by Alice Oseman

Alejandro: “Omg, Ella, remember the first time you read Heartstopper?”

Ella: “Um… of course! How could I not?”

This past summer, “Heartstopper Volume One” held a spot on the Mass Teen Choice Book Award list, prompting us to pick up a copy. The graphic novel, written and illustrated by British author Alice Oseman, explores the complexities of being a young queer student in a modern-day high school and is just one volume of a currently four-part series.

Alejandro: As a queer student myself, I thought “Heartstopper” seemed to have the most fleshed-out characters of any LGBTQ+ young adult novel I’ve read. I could actually see myself in the character of Charlie Spring.

Ella: That’s so fair. I consider myself to be a Charlie as well! Generally speaking, the representation was honestly so refreshing to see. It was so fun to watch this diverse group of characters explores what it was like to be queer in high school. Not only do we get to see Nick realize he’s bisexual, but we also see Elle experience being transgender at an all-girls school while simultaneously falling in love with her best friend. I was especially impressed with the portrayal of lesbian relationships since I feel like a lot of the time, literature and TV can sometimes both fetishize or oversimplify them.

Alejandro: Yeah, I really enjoyed having a variety of love stories; it had something for everyone. While the relationship between Nick and Charlie is the main love story, Oseman does justice to the other relationships forming as well. I also loved that Charlie was already out from the get-go. In many of these queer YA novels, the central storyline remains constant: the coming out story. While that is an aspect of “Heartstopper,” it was certainly not the main focus. There are characters who have already realized their queerness and are unapologetic about it.

Oseman has created queer characters that are relatable and lovable to the point where the motifs of the series (shoes and leaves) are easily recognizable. (GRAPHIC BY ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ)

Ella: I agree. I’ve gotten really tired of queer movie plotlines completely centered around coming out. Oseman’s writing is a reminder that there’s more life to live after coming out. However, it’s notable that as readers we do get to witness Nick Nelson grapple with his sexual identity and navigate coming out in the hyper-masculine environment of his rugby team.

Alejandro: It is interesting to see how Oseman depicts the difficulty that comes with coming out. Charlie is bullied for being out, and that is a big factor in him developing an eating disorder. That part was particularly hard to read, and it was so impactful to see how it not only affected him but his loved ones as well. I really appreciate the emphasis on mental health for all of the characters in this series, especially since queer students have been found to be at a higher risk for developing mental health problems. In fact, as the Trevor Project recently released in its annual survey, 58 percent of LGBTQ+ teens reported experiencing symptoms of depression, and 73 percent reported symptoms of anxiety.

Ella: I feel like Oseman putting mental health at the forefront of a queer novel accurately shows that being queer in a heteronormative society comes with its own mental health challenges. I think some people don’t realize that these books are so much more than just cheesy gay romance novels; they also dig deep into more difficult topics like mental health and bullying.

Alejandro: That is what makes these books so powerful. The hardships help shape the seemingly perfect triumphs and revelations. Oseman shows that being queer means a beautifully complicated life of hardships and victories that shape one’s identity. I’m really glad it was promoted as a summer read this year. It’s a great book for everyone. With complex characters, relatable struggles and heartwarming moments you really can’t go wrong with this series.