graphic novel, LGBT, New Adult Romance, YA Contemporary Fiction, YA romance

My Review: Check, Please! Book 2: Sticks and Scones (Check Please #3-4): by Ngozi Ukazu

Publication Date: April 7th, 2020
Number of Pages: 352 Pages
Publisher: First Second
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, YA Romance, LGBT

***Warning! This book review contains spoilers from the previous book, continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of Book #1- Check, Please! Vol. #1 – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

A fair warning is needed for anyone who’s about to start this next installment in the Check, Please! story: expect some tears. Expect tears both sad and happy to flow down those cheeks of yours because of how touching, how tender, how pure of a storyline this has come to be and just about everything else about it, but also because it’s coming to a close.

I was someone who’d discovered this story when the hardcover Vol. 1 came into the bookstore where I work one day, and I immediately fell in love with the cover and decided to give it a chance, then discovered something to truly fangirl over and completely stan.

The characters!

The banter!

The found family dynamic!

The coming of age tale!

The LGBT representation!

The slow burn romance!

All of it was just about perfect in my eyes, and these books were the YA LGBT graphic novel I wish I had growing up, or even just going through college myself. It makes me so happy to see so many more LGBTQ+ stories and books coming out for the younger readers that desperately need them in order to feel heard and understood.

After finishing the first book, I never really followed the webcomics posted (the original source of this whole story), and told myself to wait until this sequel was to be released in hardcover format almost a whole year later. Why, you may ask?…I’m not sure, but the best way for me to describe it is how I can’t watch a show by only viewing the one episode a week now. Netflix ruined that for me, and I’d rather just wait for it all to be released as a complete set rather than torture myself waiting to see what happens next with the little bit I’m given every week, if that makes sense? It’s all or nothing for me!

So fast forward, and it’s finally the time I can read this next volume, which contains main protagonist Eric “Bitty” Bittle’s Junior and Senior year of college. It felt like a reunion to get to go further into the story and see what happens after the VERY cliffhanger of that kiss him and Jack shared the day of Jack’s graduation! It was a whirlwind of past and present bunched together as we move forward in the story, but also are given lots of flashbacks to small scenes that happened before the start of book #2. It was a little jarring at first, but once the school year started, it was smooth sailing from there on. You’re reunited with a lot of familiar faces, and are also given a crop of new characters with the new incoming freshmen joining the team and Lardo trying to find her replacement once she graduates.

The bigger change in this book is Eric Bittle’s handling of his sexuality with his family, and I mean his biological family (I.E: his mom and dad). It has some heavier moments, but still keeps the usual lighter tone and mood of the whole series throughout, and leaves you with a sense of hope that our actual lives can turn out alright too.

There were a few issues I did have with the story this time around, which was odd for me considering I didn’t really have much if any from the previous book. One of which was the handling of a certain storyline involving Bitty and a newer face, Whiskey. I’ll go further into details with that below, but despite any issues I had, I still tremendously loved this book and was so happy with how it all ended: Where Jack goes, where Bitty goes, where their relationship goes, where everyone else goes, and just pretty much everything that happens.

Reading something like this can seriously help someone who’s struggling feel less alone in this world. It goes over so many issues that people around that age deal with: the anxiety, the pressure, the relationships, high expectations both set on yourself and others, love, thinking about your future, independence, leadership, and of course the joys and pains of coming to terms with your sexuality if you’re queer. Even if you’re not a hockey fan—or any sports in general—I feel like anyone who’s looking for a story like this one can enjoy it!

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

Bitty is heading to junior year of college and though he has overcome his fear of getting ‘checked’ on the ice, he and Jack now face new challenges. They must navigate their new relationship while being apart, and also decide how they want to reveal their relationship to those around them. Not only that, but Jack and the Falconers are now a big part of the NHL–and Bitty’s life! It’s a hockey season filled with victories and losses.

A collection of the second half of the mega-popular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: Sticks and Scones is the last in a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life.

What I Liked:

  1. It Truly Makes You Laugh & Cry While Reading! I’m not someone who gets overly emotional whenever I read something. I can get incredibly emotionally invested in some things, sure, but that’s different. I can 100% full honesty, full disclosure admit that I both laughed out loud and actually teared up when I was reading this. If something can evoke so much emotion from a reader, that only proves that it’s something worth checking out!
  2. There’s Great Closure! Lately over the last couple years, a lot of series for me have come to an end, and I’m always so deeply disappointed when I feel like something didn’t end well. The Folk of the Air series by Holly Black, Game of Thrones, the IT movies just to name a few…but it seems like a lot of these popular books/movies/tv shows just can’t end on a perfect high note when the series itself was so spectacular through the journey. Check, Please! was thankfully not something I needed to add to my list of disappointing endings because the author actually did a great job of tying up all her loose ends, had the right endings for each of her characters, and it all just came together almost perfectly. Anyone who’s already a fan of the story will adore it!
  3. Bitty’s Development! Eric Bittle, or “Bitty” has really come into his own through the series. He’s become more confident in himself and his abilities on and off the ice, his relationship with Jack, his coming to terms with being gay, and to him all of a sudden being a senior on the team and is thrust into a position of leadership amongst the other players. I saw a bit of myself in Bitty sometimes along his journey, what with his whole self discovery and coming out in college amongst all his friends. He was a great protagonist to follow throughout the four years that they totally called it: they go quicker than you think!
  4. It Reveals Realistic Coming-of-Age Issues! I’d kind of mentioned it above, but this book tackles so many issues that really resonated with me, and I feel like relate to a lot of people around my age: anxiety, depression, acceptance, financial woes, fear and uncertainty of what comes after college and the future in general, coming out, friendships, first love…there’s plenty more, but if that doesn’t convince you, what will? Each issue is addressed and handled incredibly well; I’d almost even say there doesn’t even need to be a trigger warning for any of it because the book keeps its lighter tone throughout.
  5. The Found Family Trope! I’m such a sucker for the story arc of a group of diverse people coming together because of a certain cause or similar interest, and how they get closer over time and learn so much about each other…and eventually notice certain faults each person may carry, but loves them anyways! They support each other, they love to be around each other, and always enjoy each other’s company. The group also grows as more people join in over the years and the bond just continues to keep growing while they never lose touch of that original base that the group dynamic was founded on…I just love found/chosen family story tropes, they get me every time!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Too Many Flashbacks In The Beginning. The book starts off with many flashback scenes of certain things said or certain events that happened before the start of the book, all the while being mentioned or referenced in current time. I found this to be a little jarring, disorientating, and a confusing way to start for a graphic novel. Mainly, I think I just got a little overwhelmed and couldn’t tell what was past and present; maybe if the flashbacks had a certain difference in color tone or grading to make it visually less confusing, that would’ve been helpful!
  2. The Issue with the Player, Whiskey! Whiskey is a newer character introduced in this book, and he’s introduced as Bitty is talking about him to Jack over the phone, saying that the guy seems to want nothing to do with him and he has no idea why (kind of like how Jack first treated him tbh, but at least that got better). There’s a scene that happens at a college party, and then it’s entirely left alone until close to the end of the book when Bitty and Whiskey finally address it. To be honest, this whole storyline irked me a little bit! It never really fully gets addressed and felt like it’d gotten shafted under everything else going on, and even the final confrontation left a lot to be desired in terms of how is this going to be handled moving forward…Plus, it showed Whiskey’s character to not be in the greatest light, and I’d just hoped for more to come out of this whole storyline…

Conclusion:

It’s always sad when something comes to an end, and Check, Please! is no different than any other book, tv show, or movie that you adored and suddenly it’s over. What’s the hardest part is that hangover-like feeling of being lost and wondering to yourself: What now? Do you wallow and mope about how it’s over and worry if you’ll ever find something to love as much as you loved that story? Or, do you get excited at the anticipation of that hunt to find that next thing to obsess over? I guess it depends on the specific reader…

A truly great conclusion to an incredibly uplifting, joyful story of a little queer baker/figure skater/vlogger who turns into a hockey player, overcomes his fears, and finds true happiness with those he ties up his skates next to on the bench and shares the ice with. So many feels…but just what an amazing series! Can’t recommend enough!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

graphic novel, LGBT, YA Contemporary Fiction, YA romance

My Review: Check, Please! Book 1: #Hockey (Check, Please! #1-2): by Ngozi Ukazu

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Publish Date: September 18th 2018
Number of Pages: 288 Pages
Publisher: First Second
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, Sports, LGBT, YA

Total Star Rating: 4.35 Stars

Okay, so if you love hilarious, heartwarming, coming of age story with college male athletes who love to party, and a gay little figure skater who loves to bake and joins the team, this graphic novel is totally for you!

Before this story literally fell into my hands, I never really read graphic novels before. Not that I ever had anything against them, they were just something that I never really looked into, plus they seemed like something that Marvel took over for the most part. This book just so happened to fall into my hands one day while at work in the bookstore, and I was immediately drawn towards the artwork, the blurb on the back, and I thought it would be great material to not only enjoy, but to get some possible inspiration towards my own story that I’m working on, which also takes place on a college campus.

After some resarch from my ever curious, erudite Ravenclaw mind, Check, Please turned out to have started out as a webcomic on the author’s Tumblr and/or Twitter accounts, and it gained so much popularity with it’s growing fandom, that she eventually turned to Kickstarter to be able to make printed copies of it to send to interested parties. It eventually went on to become the most funded webcomic to ever be put up on the site, making an astounding $74,000 when her goal was only $15,000.

I’m so sad to say that before I stumbled upon the book that I’d never even heard of the franchise, and thats because it turned out to be one of my favorite stories that I’ve read in recent memory! Its got sports, it’s got friendship, it’s got brotherhood, it’s got it’s laughs and tears, romance, hot male athletes, witty and hilarious banter, sexual tension, and it’s such a great story to get behind. It’s got some extremely relatable themes like coming out, collegiate stress, overcoming fears, friendship, growing up, athletes, and eventually graduation. I’m only sad that I have to wait until Spring of 2020 in order to read Vol. 2 (at least a printed copy of it, which I want to hold off on anything until the physical copy comes out, I know the third and fourth years are available to read online).

What It’s About:

Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a vlogger and baker, enrolls as a new freshman at Samwell University, a private college over in Massachusetts. He’s a former figure skating champion, but is actually at Samwell to play on the boy’s Hockey team, who all begin to warm up to through his cheery demeanor, his excellent baking skills, and overall kindness and compassion.

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Eric Bittle, image courtesy of tvtropes.org

Four other characters meet Bittle and become a big part of his overall story; there’s his teammates Shitty, Ransom and Holster, Jack, and Lardo.

B. “Shitty” Knight is a typical cocky, chill, go with the flow kind of guy who is actually pretty intelligent, but wants to keep it on the down low. Despite being a junior who’s actually double majoring in Political Science and Sexuality, Women and Gender studies, he is very much what some people may consider to be a “stereotypical” hockey bro, at least by appearance and first impressions.

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Shitty, image courtesy of tvtropes.org

Adam “Ransom” Birkholtz and Justin “Holster” Oluransi are the dynamic duo; they’re not an actual gay couple, but they might as well be. Both are each other’s best friend, they play off of each other and are always there for a good laugh, or get into “deep” philosophical debates like whether flow actually helps a hockey player’s performance or not, how nicknames are created and earned, the perfect shape of Jack’s ass (which has its own parody twitter account), and plenty of other hilarious and random qualms that come up. They are total bro’s, but lovable bro’s in a beautiful bromance.

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Holster and Ransom, image courtesy of tvtropes.org

Larissa “Lardo” Duan is the snarky and moody female team manager. She is an art major in her sophomore year, based off her sculpture and painting work done that’s referenced, and though she doesn’t always say much, she usually knows what needs to be said. Initially best friends with Shitty since they’re from the same hometown, she also befriends Bitty and gets closer to him.

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Lardo, image courtesy of tvtropes.org

Finally, we have Jack Zimmerman. Considered by most as a “prodigy” with his dad being a hockey legend, Jack always felt the pressure coming from all sides, and it’s led to issues with stress and anxiety and other things down the road. A junior at the beginning of the story who’s a History Major, he’s incredibly driven, brooding, moody during the preseason and is a natural born leader with a no nonsense attitude. He initially dislikes Bitty, but grows to like him over the course of the two years that they are teammates. Jack even begins to tease Bitty about his mannerisms and his obsession with Twitter and baking, and they develop a fun dynamic because Bitty reminds him to take joy in the little things in life.

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Jack Zimmerman, image courtesy of tvtropes.org

As the story develops, you discover that Bitty learns to come to terms with his sexuality when he discovers that he has a major crush on Jack. No one else really knows, and he’d prefer to keep it that way. This first volume covers Bitty’s freshman and sophomore years at Samwell University, while the second volume (releasing Spring 2020) will of course feature the last two years, and hopefully/most likely feature some characters that graduated and moved away in this first part.

What I Liked:

  1. The Characters! Honestly, it’s the characters and their whole group dynamic that steals your heart in this story. They’re just such a fun group of people to read about, and you feel like you’re immersed within their inner circle. They say funny and stupid things, and actually do funny and stupid things too; the author absolutely nails the banter and the camaraderie amongst the teammates. Her characters were surprisingly so fleshed out and dynamic, and it was so great to see how they grew as time went on. Yes, to some, they’re just the typical alpha jocks on campus, and sure, sometimes they say things that may seem problematic or stupid, but I can appreciate the fact that the author nailed their authenticity to a T, and still made them likeable all the same. With that said, I suppose there are some slight trigger warnings for some readers: there’s underage drinking, panic attacks, hazing, and the misogynistic guy talk about hooking up with girls, and frankly other sexual content. Personally, I didn’t mind any of it as I thought it added to the authenticity of the characters and who they are (boys who are athletes in college), but I could see others not be too keen on it.
  2. The Slow-Burn Romance! Yes, there is a romance, and oh….it is so agonizingly drawn out, much like someone who is a giant wuss and makes tearing off a bandaid an absolutely horrendous experience. It’s fun to see it slowly develop, but also so satisfying when it finally goes somewhere. There’s plenty in between to keep you interested at least! You can’t help but love Bitty and want him to get everything he wants in the world; he is the literal definition of a human cinnamon roll!
  3. The Author! the author took her time studying the sport of Hockey for three months at Yale back when she was writing a screenplay that was similar to Check, Please, but much darker in tone. afterwards, she wanted something lighter, more fun and uplifting, when she witnessed the friendship amongst the athletes and their own group dynamic, and so Check, Please was created. Also, she unintentionally became a huge fan of the sport after all the research she did for her works of fiction, which is awesome! She went above and beyond because she wanted it to be authentic, realistic and show that she knew what she was talking about. Any writer, author, etc should do the same sort of thing in order to make their work stronger. I also just love that from what I’ve heard, she’s just as much a part of the fandom while also being the main contributor of it all. She literally just sits and draws little three-part comics, sketches, character’s, you name it. She does her own fanart for her own comic, which just sounds adorable. It’s awesome to hear about a creator who loves her work so much, that she’s also such a huge fan as well!
  4. The Artwork! The artwork is done in such a beautiful, fun way, and the panels are smartly done in a seamless way that easily moves you within the story the next box. It’s simple and cartoony, but effective and enjoyable all at the same time.
  5. Bitty! I mean, he’s a short, gay little baker who was a figure skater who joins the hockey team. Imagine Spongebob Squarepants making it into the Salty Splatoon. He’s also from the south and says “Y’all,” “Bless your heart,” “Girl, Please” and uses people’s full names like an angry mother whenever he needs to make a point. So, he’s a gay little southern baker who’s on the hockey team, and he’s officially too pure for this world.

What I Didn’t Like:

Nothing…I didn’t dislike anything…it was all so so so so perfect….I am WAY too excited for Spring 2020 for it to release! I don’t even care, I’m rolling up in my 2004 Mercury Sable at Barnes & Noble and paying full price like:

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Conclusion:

Oh my lord…What can I say? This story is a treat. A delicious, sweet, cavity inducing treat that most fans of LGBT!, sports, M/M romance and college story lovers will immensely enjoy. It’s mainly character driven, so it’s a little on the slower side towards the middle, but like I said, the author has created a truly amazing dynamic with her characters with their unique personalities, their banter and conversations, and how they develop for not only themselves, but for you, the reader. They truly may shock you at some points when you think you have them all figured out.

It’s funny, its heartfelt, its deep, and it’s another great coming of age story for anyone to enjoy! If you couldn’t guess, I am currently in countdown mode for the release of vol. 2 in the spring of 2020, and refuse to read what happens before then on the internet, because who doesn’t like the long, drawn out torture of waiting for the next book in a series to come out a year later?

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

graphic novel, LGBT, YA Contemporary Fiction, YA romance

My Review: Heartstopper: Volume 1 (Heartstopper #1): by Alice Oseman

Publish Date: February 7th, 2019
Number of Pages: 288 Pages
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, Romance, LGBT+

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

Another fun, romantic, hilarious, real, personal graphic novel about friendship and the possibility of love. I had a lot of fun reading this story as it was recommended to me by fellow readers.

It’s an incredibly quick read that I easily finished in one sitting, and it’s an incredibly relatable story that really seemed to resonate with me and plenty of others who go through a similar journey of self discovery as the characters do in this graphic novel.

There’s queer representation, theres bullying, and theres an abusive relationship that really seem to stick with people, myself included, after finishing this first part of the two MC’s story. The author really excelled at showcasing her craft with her characters and made them feel distinct, engaging and so much fun to read about. She’s also pretty spot on about the bullying…at the time you have in High School, people will literally come up with ANYTHING to make fun of you about: whether you’re too thin, too fat, too smart, too stupid, too clingy, alone too much, too slutty, too prudish, etc. Anything that makes you stick out and become distinguishable, someone will make fun of you about it. It’s a sad reality for a lot of young people…it’s tragic to discover that life ain’t a Disney Channel Original Movie like they make you believe when you’re a kid.

Luckily, our characters don’t just sit back and let the abuse take over; through their personal growth in this GN, they learn to stick up for themselves and recognize their self worth! It’s a lot of fluff, it makes you go “Awwwwwwwwwe” a whole bunch of times, and positively warms reader’s hearts and believe in true love!

What It’s About:

Charlie Spring is a Year 10 at Truham Grammar School for Boys, and is the only openly gay student. It hasn’t been an easy adjustment, especially at an all boys school, but he’s made the most of it over the year since it happened. In fact, he’s almost become more popular because of coming out of the closet, and even has a boyfriend…sort of.

Nick Nelson is in Year 11 and is the complete opposite of Charlie: he’s much more relaxed and easy-going and a star athlete on the school’s rugby team. He’d heard of the openly gay student on campus, but had never actually met the poor kid who’d been bullied for it. That all changes when they wind up in the same class and end up sitting next to each other.

They quickly become great friends and hang out all the time, but Charlie finds himself doing what no openly gay male should never do–falling for their straight best friend. He truly believes nothing will ever come of it, but sometimes life really throws a curveball at you, and things like love and fate work in unexpected ways.

Sometimes it’s better to take the plunge and go forth, because how will you truly know unless you try?

What I Liked:

  1. Charlie’s Hair! The boys hair is gorgeously drawn! I’m telling you, it’s some Disney Princess level hair, and Charlie himself is such a sweetheart/cinnamon roll who deserves the whole freakin’ world.
  2. Friendship Before Love! I’ve read it before that every great love story has a great friendship as a base, and I can definitely agree with that! I’m not about to get all sappy and dive deeper into this whole idea, but basically, it was sweet to see the relationship evolve with Charlie and Nick! It was amazing how supportive Nick was of Charlie as a friend and teammate, and how Charlie wasn’t about coming to terms with his sexuality, it was more about his growing feelings for Nick because he was already out and proud.
  3. Sexual Discovery! So mild spoiler alert (or maybe not to be completely honest), but Nick going through his whole “am I straight or am I actually gay?” storyline: I think every gay male back when they were questioning themselves can relate to that part of the graphic novel. I only wish this part went on a little longer because sometimes it takes longer for some to figure themselves like that.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Overall Art Style…It’s not that I hated it necessarily, but I felt like maybe it could’ve been cleaned up a bit more? I guess you could say the overall quality didn’t exactly meet up to other graphic novels I’ve read. Some people really enjoy it for its simplicity, but in my opinion, it felt like I looked through someone’s senior thesis project. I guess I’m comparing it to the other LGBT+ romance graphic novels I’ve read, the Fence saga by C.S. Pacat and Check, Please by Ngozi Ukazu. The artwork there is much more crisp, professional and even in color.

Conclusion:

Another great comic for those who are looking for a sweet, sugar-infused m/m romance graphic novel. It’s also sports related, like, every other graphic novel that I enjoy reading! It’s an absolutely adorable story of two young men who meet and become friends, but what if there was room for more?

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell