Trigger Warning: This article discusses mental health issues, self-harm, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, emotionally abusive relationships, getting outed, and homophobia.
Spoiler Warning: This article contains spoilers for Heartstopper, Radio Silence, and Solitaire by Alice Oseman.
The wonderful world of Heartstopper, one of the most popular teen tv shows/comic book series that was renewed for two additional seasons within only a couple months of its premier in early 2022, was actually first introduced in 2014. Author and creator of the show, Alice Oseman (she/they), got the idea for Heartstopper from her debut YA novelSolitaire that she released in 2014, when she was only 17 years old.
Heartstopper follows the love story of two boys, Nick and Charlie, in an all-boys school in England. It’s an adorable and idyllic look at them forming a relationship, figuring out their sexualities, and navigating their way through homophobia.
Charlie Spring is 14 years old and his interests include maths, track and field, video gaming, music (he plays drums in his school band), and watching films with his good friends Tao, Issac, and Elle. He recently ended a toxic relationship with the popular heartthrob of the grade, Ben Hope, who had made them keep their relationship secret and was constantly taking advantage of the fact that Charlie is shy and kind of a pushover. Charlie’s strengths are that he’s intelligent, kind, resilient, and has a strong moral compass. His weaknesses are that he is easily manipulated, sometimes too nice, and not very honest. Charlie struggles with OCD, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
Nick Nelson is 15 years old and his interests include rugby, playing with his dog Nellie, hanging out with peers, and watching films. His only other known “relationship” was his crush on a girl named Tara Jones who he kissed when they were 13, but that was the extent of his romantic history. Nick spends the majority of Season 1 of Hearstopper figuring out his sexuality and he eventually comes out as bisexual. Nick’s virtues are that he is loyal, protective, patient, athletic, and open-minded. His vices are that he tends to try to solve problems that don’t need to be solved and that he is overprotective of people to the extent that they need space from him. Nick helps support Charlie through his mental health issues and proves his dependability by being there for him.
Nick is a stereotypical “rugby lad.” He always hung out with boys who engage in toxic masculinity and homophobia (although he never was like that) and seemed to be a very typical jock. The leader of his friend group, Harry Green, bullied Charlie for a few years and when Nick came out of the closet, he turned on his friend and bullied him too. Nick eventually broke away from those “friends” and became closer with Charlie and his friends.
Here’s the thing. I think that Heartstopper is an amazing show. However, I would not consider it very realistic. I don’t think it accurately demonstrates the true reality of what being a queer teenager in middle or high school is like. Yes, both the show and books touch on homophobia, but it’s not a central plotline–which is not necessarily a bad thing. I think that this show–accompanied with it’s cute cartoon foliage and heart animations, the sort of cheesy but sweet dialogue, and much-appreciated depiction of a strong and adorable teen queer couple–is a warm hug. It’s a good comfort show. Some scenes will make you cry, but for the most part, it’s so wholesome it will make your heart stop. Hey–they warn you in the title.
So while enjoying Heartstopper, I think that it is important to keep in mind that some queer kids’ experiences may look somewhat like a parallel to the Heartstopper universe, for most that is not what it’s like.
Season 1 was released on April 22, 2022. Season 2 is set to be released August 3, 2023.
I have high hopes for season two; I’m looking forward to it very much. On June 17, Netflix released the first scene from Season 2. I haven’t seen it yet and don’t intend to. I don’t want it spoiled, so I’ll just keep waiting for a few more months. In the meantime, I have Solitaire to tide me over.
Alice’s Other Works
Alice Oseman may be most famous for Heartstopper, but she has other works that are just as well written. Some are, I might even argue, better written.
I read Radio Silence in the Fall of 2022. It took me a couple of weeks to read it and I thought it was an amazing story. It told the story of Charlie Spring’s friend Aled Last (who is featured in the comics but renamed as Issac in the Netflix show), who had a secret sci-fi podcast, and a girl named Frances who’s a huge fan of his podcast. She ends up becoming his friend and doesn’t know that he’s the voice behind her favorite story.
And now I’m in the middle of Solitaire. I can’t begin to express how much I love this book. I feel like out of all the characters in the Alice Oseman universe, I relate to its main character Tori Spring the most, especially her cynicism, introvertedness, and ability to see humanity from a bird eye view. We can both look at things from the outside, as if we’re watching the world at a movie theater and not right in front of our eyes, and we can analyze things using an objective critical thinking process. Solitaire tells the story of angsty 17 year old Victoria Spring trying to live her life, cope with friend drama, support her brother Charlie with his mental health problems, and work on her own issues when suddenly she becomes the target of a secret prankster society called Solitaire. I probably should’ve finished this book a few weeks ago considering I got it around four or five weeks ago, but I’ve been dragging it out because I’m waiting for Heartstopper and I am so drawn into the story that I feel like the end will be sad for me. Sometimes mourning the end of a book can be the saddest part.
Nick and Charlie is a spinoff book of Heartstopper that takes place around the time of Solitaire, a couple years after Heartstopper. It’s a short story, and I listened to it on audio when I finished the comic series. It shares more about how as they got older, their relationship got a bit more complicated and more issues started arising for them.
This Winter is a Solitaire novella, sort of like Nick and Charlie. I don’t know much about it, but I can’t wait to read it when I’m done with Solitaire.
Finally, there’s Loveless. I don’t know much about this book except for that it’s a graphic novel about a teen’s asexuality, but I’ll also have to read this one too.
You can leave a note in the comment section of this article if there’s anything that I missed but I think that’s all of Oseman’s work.
Here are my ratings for each story.
Heartstopper (TV Program)–10/10
Heartstopper (Comic Book)–10/10
In short, I recommend reading Alice Oseman’s books and watching their show. They are very accomplished writer and they have built an amazing universe. I think that her stories have resonated with a lot of people and have helped paved the path for a lot more queer voices and stories being shared.