Comics review: Heartstopper (Volume 3) by Alice Oseman

(cover image courtesy Hachette Australia)

Ah, the giddy joys of falling in love.

All the wining and dining and dating and kissing and the glittering possibilities of things yet to come; it is hard not to be swept into the starry-eyed dance of romantic back-and-forth, culminating, if Cupid is smiling upon you, in getting together with someone.

That moment of committing to that special someone is one of life’s most glorious moments and in the euphoria of “I do”, whatever the circumstances, it’s easy to believe that everything will be easy from this point on because, well, LOVE.

But as Alice Oseman makes charmingly clear in his sweetly insightful third instalment in the Heartstopper series – volumes 1 & 2 have been previously reviewed – it’s the bit after all that swooning commitment and feelings that nothing is impossible than can really challenge a relationship.

Not mortally, of course, and not in any way that dooms it to a sad and early demise which is a relief since Nick and Charlie are one of the most adorable couples to ever have their story told and the idea of them being no more is beyond unthinkable.

Thankfully, Oseman doesn’t even go there, eschewing the cheap drama of will-they-won’t-they break-up in favour of investing their nascent togetherness with the authenticity of two people who have found their home in each other and have no intention of ever relinquishing it.

Nick, the bisexual jock who has come out to his mum and is head over heels in love with his new boyfriend, and Charlie, long pick upon by his school’s bullies for being gay and now out, are the kind of couple that makes sense because what they have is real, lasting and the kind of true that makes you swoon with the happiness of seeing two people together who deserve all the good and happy things in life.

For all that happy loved-up coupledom, however, that doesn’t mean they are immune from life battering them to and fro like some sort of cat toy in a pit full of playful felines.

In a story that takes them from the heights of love to the very real fear that coming out as a couple could cause more problems that it solves, from London to Paris on a school excursion where love is in the air but also all kinds of relationship will-they-won’t-theys among their friends, Heartstopper (Volume 3) is as real and yet as heartwarmingly lovely as it gets, proof that life can be tough but love can be even supportively tougher.

Alice Oseman (image courtesy RCW Literary Agency)

Take Tao and Ellie, who clearly like each other.

I mean, really like each other.

Tao has been there all the way through Ellie’s transition and loves how quirky, sweet and real and wants to be with her so badly that it hurts and agonises him in ways that seem almost palpable.

Thankfully Paris is there to work its romantic magic but not before a whole lot of toing-and-froing and a mutual struggling with respective self-esteem demons that suggests the biggest impediment to love, sweet, love forever after is often our own suffocating, and often baseless, insistent fears that we’re simply not up to the task.

While Aled and Ellie try to sort what they really mean to each other, Nick and Charlie, with the support of the school’s other same-sex superstar couple, and close friends of the guys, Darcy and Tara, are navigating when to come out as a couple, who to come out to and when and how to handle the fact that one of their biggest homophobic detractors, Harry, might not be such a douchebag after all. (OK, he’s still a douchebag but he’s sorry for being a thoughtless bully so that’s good?)

It may seem like a straightforward thing to do but as any gay person will do, and you can this reviewer among their number, you are constantly coming to people, over and over and over again in a way that is never demanded of straight people.

Charlie and Nick have to handle their respective coming out challenges, with the former finding some damaging old coping habits re-emerging and Nick trying to figure out how to deal with his older brother who seems to find the idea of his sibling being gay to be some weird act of persuasive alchemy by Charlie.

It’s hard, very hard, reinforcing the point that while getting together is delightful, especially as a gay couple since the challenges you face are greater than most, the staying together is a whole other degree of difficulty.

But not, Heartstopper (Volume 3) an impossible difficulty to surmount if you have the kind of love that Nick and Charlie, Alex and Ellie and Tara and Darcy have in abundance, the kind of love that homophobes would like to tell isn’t real or true but which anyone with a heart and an open mind knows is as deep, supportive and lasting as any other love.

The sweet, gorgeous, heart-swelling joy of Heartstopper (Volume 3) is there in every panel, buoyed by endearing artwork that brings the characters and their romantic dilemmas alive so vividly you swear they are about to waltz off the page, Nick and Charlie presenting a reaffirming reminder that it is more than possible to weather the slings and arrows of relational misfortune, so much so that new, vibrant love, the kind of which poems are written and songs are sung, doesn’t just last but gets stronger and truer with each passing day.

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