Heartstopper Volume 2 begins at the tail end of a party night that’s been brought to an abrupt stop by an unexpected kiss between friends Charlie and Nick. What does the kiss mean for their friendship? How will each boy process this new development? Is this love? Adolescence is already filled with all sorts of anxieties, so when love appears, the stakes are high.
Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper (originally published as an ongoing webcomic) is a delightful exploration of young love as it unfolds. Despite this being the second published volume, new readers won’t be lost if they jump in at this junction of the story (though the book detailing the beginning of Charlie and Nick’s friendship is certainly beneficial), as the first few pages do a fair job of catching the reader up.
Oseman’s art has translated well from Tapas’ scrolling format to the paper confines of the graphic novel. Her liberal use of white space gives the reading experience an airy and unconstrained feel. From page to page, each moment of Nick and Charlie’s story is met with its appropriate visual depiction, whether that means a complicated panel layout, momentarily cutesy art, or a panel giving way to falling leaves. One standout visual device in Heartstopper is Oseman’s hand-written lettering, which is artfully essential to the loose quality of her work. Her letters are expressive and take up space in a way that feels both unique to her style and organic to the pacing of the comic.
As for her characters, not only does Oseman imbue Charlie and Nick with plenty of charm and vulnerability, she also treats them (and their interior worlds) with a level of understanding and care that elevates the story, blending the genres of teen romance and coming-of-age in a highly moving manner. The resulting product is an understated exploration of love and self, full of quiet joy.
Life in Heartstopper can be complicated. Sometimes the emotions and conflicts the boys go through can seem like too much for them to handle. But it never is too much, primarily because at the heart of the story are two characters who turn to each other, open up, and choose to work together to find their way through the muddled mess of life. Yes, Heartstopper a story about love, but it’s also a story about friendship and the gift of having someone in your life who understands you.
Fitting this theme, Oseman doesn’t ignore the other relationships in Nick and Charlie’s lives. Though other friendships and family dynamics may not feature the same number of dedicated pages as the central relationship does, they’re never devalued or ignored just because Nick and Charlie are in love. Oseman accomplishes this by having Charlie and Nick not only focus on what they mean to each other, but also attempt find out how their burgeoning relationship will fit into the context of their relationships with their friends and families. In the world of Heartstopper, love isn’t expected to fix or replace things, but it does change things for the better.
The second volume of Heartstopper reflects a confidence that’s exciting for the growing genre of queer romance aimed at young-adult readers. As a sequel, it complicates the relationship set up in the first volume and gives Nick a little more space to grow. Because the comic isn’t solely focused on whether or not the boys get together, the story doesn’t run out of steam when they do, leaving the potential path of this story wide open. It’ll be interesting to see how it develops; it’s clear that Oseman still has a lot of story to tell.