***Warning!!! This review contains spoilers from the previous book in this series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***
To see my review of Heartstopper, Volume 1 – Click HERE
Total Star Rating: 4 Stars
I Like Charlie Spring! In a romantic way not just a friend way!“
– Alice Oseman, “Heartstopper (Vol. 2)”
What It’s About:
The official blurb:
Nick and Charlie are best friends. Nick knows Charlie’s gay, and Charlie is sure that Nick isn’t.
But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is discovering all kinds of things about his friends, his family … and himself.
A charming, sweet, and absolutely heartwarming second volume to this warm and lovable story, Heartstopper continues to steal my heart!
These graphic novels are the perfect amount of light-reading and feel-good material to make you believe in true love and happiness in this wild and unpredictable world. I am just so happy that there are stories like this that are so easily available to find for those looking for LGBT+ books to enjoy, and their such a nice change of pace from the heavier and more action-packed fantasy I also read. I know I repeat myself so much on here about this with books like these, but it’s all so true, just call me grateful I guess!
The story continues literally right where we left off in the previous volume that ended on a very dramatic, soap-opera-esque cliffhanger with Nick kissing Charlie at a party, but then freaking out and leaving him behind because of his confusion over his feelings/sexuality. Charlie is crestfallen until Nick meets up with him later to talk and hash things out, and—spoiler but not really—admits he likes Charlie and wants to try being with him. He’s still not sure what his orientation is or what this all means, all he does know is that he enjoys being with him and he wants to act on his feelings that he has!
One complaint I had in the previous volume was how rushed Nick’s revelation was that he wasn’t entirely straight. To me, it just felt rushed or that not enough emphasis was put on it, so I was very happy to see it explored further in this book, and it was nice to see how despite being unsure of himself and what his orientation was, Nick still wanted to be with Charlie and kiss him and be a happy couple with him, even if he wasn’t exactly ready to go public with it.
That brings me into another interesting subject that this graphic novel brought up: dating someone who hasn’t come out or has even fully come to terms with themselves and their sexuality. It’s a slippery slope and both sides in the relationship have so much pressure on their shoulders in figuring it all out. Everyone deserves to come out on their own terms and at their own choosing, but how long until the other one loses patience and can no longer be kept a secret? This issue is handled incredibly well throughout the story, and Charlie somehow becomes an even bigger sweetheart than how he already is with the patience and tenderness he shows Nick as he’s figuring things out. A major highlight for this specific volume indeed! On the other hand, I’m also glad it’s challenge a little bit in one of Charlie’s friends, who thinks Nick is just using him or that it’s some elaborate prank Nick and his friends are pulling on him. It’s a lot of amazing tension that really adds to the story, and really puts a test on Nick and Charlie’s relationship!
The story is character-driven, so the pacing is a little slow at times, but the soft and tender moments definitely make up for it, and before you know it, you’ve finished this volume too and are already online to get the next volume ASAP—guilty!
There are many issues faced in this story so far that are so relatable to anyone in the LGBT+ community who has come out at a young age; the pressures of two people at different points in their lives, friends who question the legitimacy of their relationship and miss them because they don’t spend as much time with them like before, homophobia from people you thought were your friends, and even the whole coming out to your parents and not being sure how they’ll react. It’s a lot, but anyone who’s been in similar situations to these characters understands what it’s like and it just makes the story so real and so relatable; it’s like a voice being heard after being ignored for so long.
…honestly I’m having a proper full-on GAY PANIC.”
– Alice Oseman, “Heartstopper (Vol. 2)”
What I Liked:
Nick’s Not Sure What His Sexuality Is! While I’m sure there are a few guys in the queer community who can complain about a guy who they really liked but didn’t really know what his sexuality was, I really liked this storyline for Nick. It was explored a lot more in this second volume and I kind of liked how he still didn’t have a concrete answer, but it didn’t stop him from wanting to be with Charlie and act upon these feelings he had that were a little strange for him, but still felt so right. There’s a kind of beauty in that; not letting the fear of the unknown keeping you from experiencing joy and happiness from something that so obviously makes you feel those emotions!
Charlie Continues To Be so Freakin’ Adorable! I still love how Charlie is this kind, sweet, awkward, shy, and all around lovable guy who just wants to be happy. We’ve all felt like him at some point in our lives, and my heart just warms at how he has such a loyal and strong circle of friends and family who have his back whenever he may need it. He has the strength to move forward on his own, but there’s nothing wrong with having some help from others who care about you.
Friendships Are Tested! Things get a little tense with Charlie and one of his friends at one point in this volume, and to be fair, it’s not entirely unjustified. It comes from a place of love and compassion, and I thought it was a great representation on the theme of friendship that these graphic novels also showcase.
The Representation! Okay, but people are going to love all the queer representation that’s in these books. It feels like there are more gay people than straight people at times, and the fact that there is a nonbinary character along with even having queer POC characters is also great to see! People looking for this specifically in their reading material should pick these up for this reason!
The Scene With Nick & His Mom! So heartwarming and touching, It reminded me of the scene in Love, Simon when Jennifer Garner tells him that he can breathe and be who he wants to be….it’s just something that every kid who remembers the fear of the anticipation of coming out to their parents and not knowing how they’re going to react needs to hear. It may have also been all the pollen in the air lately, but my eyes were freakin’ watering up when I read this scene.
There’s A LOT Of Kissing! Nick and Charlie are such an adorable couple, and even though Nick has quite a few questions about himself, that certainly doesn’t stop him from being with Charlie and enjoying the pleasures of what romantic couples experience. He definitely makes up for lost time, and seems to really like kissing Charlie, which who can blame him when Charlie is just so…Charlie!
What I Didn’t Like:
The Homophobic Bullying…While it’s actually a pretty accurate portrayal of how certain teenagers react towards homosexuality or anything that’s outside the realm of heteronormativity, it’s still just so tiring to see it and the I still continue to hope that one day it goes away—the hatred and exclusion of LGBT+ people—but this has nothing to do with the author including it in her story. For that alone, this conflict works because it’s real and it’s something queer teens—and adults—deal with sometimes on a daily basis! It’s more me putting it on here to say how I just can’t wait for homophobia and hatred of queer people to go away as time moves forward.
It Felt Like Not Much Had Happened…By this point in reading the graphic novels, part of me thought to myself that for how many pages it is, it felt like not a whole lot actually happened, or I just wanted more to happen that what actually did. The pacing can be a little slow, but to be fair, that’s usually the case with character-driven plots much like this one, so it was a little expected. I think it was more along the lines of I just want the story to move even further along, but there are still two more volumes of these books too!
Overall, I continue to gush about these graphic novels because they’re such an uplifting and seriously adorable story; I know I repeat that word a lot on here, but it’s also the one word I’d use to describe these books if someone asked me! The story continues on and gets better and better as Charlie and Nick grow closer and their bond become stronger.
I’ve got the next volume in this 4-part series, so I can say it’ll be sooner rather than later to when I’ll start that one and include it on my blog too! Stay tuned!
Real life was something happening in her peripheral vision.”
– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
It may sound ironic, but this has to be one of the most popular books that I’ve come across that doesn’t have an actual fandom for it. Those who’ve read it all have said it’s a great story to enjoy and that they really enjoyed it, so why isn’t it referred to by many more avid book readers? Why don’t I see it showcased more on the many #Bookstagram accounts I follow? There’s also the later released book Carry On by this author too but everyone who’s read both said that this book comes first, so here we are!
I will say that besides other’s recommendations with that reading order, I had my own curiosity with this title for personal reasons. For those not aware, I’ve been on-and-off working on a coming-of-age college story of my own over the last two years, and this title popped out at me to what to check out to gather intel, see how the story works, what worked well and what didn’t, what I would change, help make some of my own college memories resurface, etc. For anyone interested, go check out my story’s progress on its page titled “When In Doubt (WIP Fiction Series)” on the main menu bar. It’s had its ups and downs and with a lot going on in my personal life at the time I’m typing this review, I haven’t worked on it as much as I’d liked to, but enough self-promotion, back to this review!…
You’re never going to find a guy who’s exactly like you—first of all, because that guy never leaves his dorm room.”
– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
I liked but didn’t love this book, even as I found it to be one of the more unique stories I’ve read in the YA reading level. the main character, Cath, who is a lot like most of us who have our heads in a book: she’s awkward, weird, complex, anti-social, and full of her own inner stories based off her favorite franchise, which is called Simon Snow and is basically a Harry Potter knockoff. Being a total Potterhead myself, even if the books no longer have an author (Shame!), I could totally relate because the Harry Potter franchise is what started it all for me! They’re the books that really got me truly passionate about books, about film, about storytelling in general, and is the catalyst that truly made me think “I want to do that” for the first time in my younger years.
As for why I didn’t love this book, it just felt like there could’ve been more that happened in terms of the plot? I think it just had too many slower moments that made it somewhat harder to keep my attention from wandering, and even the conclusion I felt like could’ve been bigger. It just felt like not as much as I’d thought would happen by the end had actually done so. I did love the growth that the main character went through as the story in all aspects: her family, finding her first love, and of course friendship, and felt like she was definitely a different person once we got from point A to point B, but I was hoping maybe there would be a bigger, and grander ending of some sort? Maybe the story works the way it is, but part of me felt like there was some buildup with Cath’s writing that got a conclusion that just fell a little flat for me.
Now despite all that, there is plenty to praise the author as well! Rainbow Rowell’s characters and her work on them are a major highlight; I think just about everyone can read this story and have most if not all the characters remind them of someone they know in real life because of how real they feel. She even has the ability to make them all so complex, even as they stand on opposite ends of the social spectrum. What I mean by that actually is by comparing Cath to her twin sister, Wren, and how they interact as the story moves forward. Cath is a totally anti-social introvert who stays in her dorm to write fanfiction, but Wren has totally embraced the college party scene and wants to drift apart from her sister, but they meet up several times and while obviously Cath has a lot of inner depth to her, you even see it in her sister in little moments and as their family is put through the emotional wringer. It was the little moments like these that made me believe that the author truly knew her characters in and out.
I was also a fan of the romance—of course—that develops in Fangirl as well! What I liked about it the most was how realistic it felt. Sometimes, the romance genre can go so over the top and make it feel like we have to bend hand-over-knee or whatever that phrase is for our significant others, and those grand gestures are the one answer it takes to show them our true feelings. Well, life ain’t like that nor is it some spanish telenovela, and what we need to remember is that even the simplest of things can get the message across just as effectively. The little things do matter!
She smiled, and her eyes started to drift downward.
Back up to his eyes.
‘You know that I’m falling in love with you, right?'”
– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
Besides the characters, it’s the nostalgia that was the most powerful thing for me to come out of reading this book. It was the nostalgia of my own freshman year of college—perhaps the greatest year of my life—and of course all the fandoms that I’ve been a part of over the years. Whether we admit it or not, we’ve all been obsessed at one point or another with something much like Cath is with Simon Snow. We’ve read the books, we bought the (sometimes) overpriced merch, the action figures, we went to the midnight premieres in costume, we had those heated debates with friends, we shipped those couples that never become canon, we joined the fanclubs, etc. Some of them we can openly admit to and maybe can even still say we belong to it, but I can agree that there are probably some that we blush and stay mum about and keep it a total guilty pleasure. I’ve been like that, but as a way to end this section of this review, I’ll put myself out there and list off all the fandoms that I can remember that I’ve been a part of:
Disney’s Little Mermaid, Spongebob Squarepants, Winnie the Pooh, Power Rangers, Pokémon, Digimon, Sailor Moon, Bratz Dolls, Kids Next Door, WWE, Yu-Gi-Oh, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Throne of Glass (or any book by Sarah J. Maas honestly), From Blood and Ash series, Dexter’s Laboratory, Scooby Doo, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, Batman and Batman Beyond, Dragon Ball Z, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra, Superman, Ariana Grande, Britney Spears, The Pussycat Dolls, Star Wars films, Teen Titans, Fairly Odd Parents, Danny Phantom, Choices, Schitt’s Creek, Samurai Jack, Finding Nemo, Stranger Things, MCU, Tomb Raider, Greek Mythology, The Powerpuff Girls, Shonen Jump manga, Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, An Ember in the Ashes series, The Vampire Diaries, MTV’s The Hills, The Folk of the Air series, Rocket Power, Rihanna, Ed Edd ‘n’ Eddy, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Looney Tunes, N*Sync, The Backstreet Boys, Kim Possible, That 70’s Show, Hannah Montana, Mean Girls, That’s So Raven, Phil of the Future, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Spy High, The Falling Kingdoms series, The Cheetah Girls, The Sims, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, The Nanny, Full House, Friends, New Girl, The Emperor’s New Groove, The Proud Family, Jesse McCartney, Lizzie Mcguire, Goosebumps, Totally Spies, Family Guy, The Land Before Time, Hocus Pocus, Boy Meets World, Duck Tales, Monster’s Inc, The Rugrats, Zoey 101, Drake and Josh, Zoobooks, The Black Cauldron, Roller Coaster Tycoon, The Lion King, The Fever Series, Queer Eye, Riverdale, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Pretty Little Liars, Once Upon a Time, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Pizza, American Horror Story, 13 Reasons Why, The Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight, and I’m sure plenty more that I can’t even remember! Here’s a crazy thought to leave you with: think of how the very person you are, your beliefs and personality and maybe even your soul is influenced by all the things like these that you grew up with, with the messages they sent you, the lessons you learned, and all that makes up who you are!
What It’s About:
The official blurb:
A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan..
But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
What I Liked:
The College Nostalgia! Oh man, did this book bring me back to my own college days! I actually started my freshman year the fall of 2012, which is actually the school year after the timeline that this book takes place in, so I found a lot of the pop culture references, clothing choices, etc. to be really relatable. Even the time at the bowling alley reminded me of the many Thursday nights I went to the UW-Stout Alehouse for 50 cent bowling nights. My freshman year of college is what I consider the best year of my life so far, so the fact that this book made me think back to some really fond memories gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling right in the chest.
The Themes! Family, isolation, love & sex, writing, drugs & alcohol, and of course coming of age are the themes I got while reading, and I thought they all commingled rather nicely into a realistic and touching story. Cath is so dedicated to her family even when she feels like everything is moving on without her which leads into the isolation. She’s not a partier like her twin sister and is totally content to stay in every night and just write more fanfiction because of social anxiety and the uncertainty of it all, I get it. Cath noticing boys in a new way, plus her growing relationship with Levi focuses on the love and sex aspects, add in a side note with Reagan as being involved with Levi in that regards too, but not in the way you might expect right off the bat. Creative Writing is a huge part of Cath’s life, plus the story follows her struggles with her writing course with Professor Piper and Nick. College and drinking go hand in hand—my two underage tickets can attest to that—and Wren really seems to embrace the party culture on campus with her blonde roommate, Courtney. Cath worries about her, but Wren continues to blow her off and downplay how far she goes whenever she goes out on the weekends.
The Romance Between Levi and Cath! The budding relationship between these two was a little insta-love on Levi’s part, which actually wasn’t too bad since he wasn’t the protagonist, but it was actually kind of sweet how it was so obvious he was totally smitten for Cath since day one. Reagan, Cath’s roommate, plays an interesting role as the thing that initially keeps them apart in the beginning. What I really loved about their relationship and all that happened within it was just how realistic it felt. He never judged her for her quirks, he broke through her walls and pushed her in a non-manipulative and genuine way, and always offered his support no matter what. Usually with romance novels, it can go a little over the top with grand gestures to win someone over and heart wrenching confessions of love with gorgeous prose, and it wasn’t like that this time and it was actually rather refreshing. Sometimes the sweetest thing a guy can do is bring their girl a specialty starbucks drink when they meet up after his shift, he offers to drive you home to see your sick dad in the hospital even though it’s hours away, or he’s a total gentleman who admits he’s in love first and says he won’t do anything sexually that she doesn’t initiate first. This romance just simple, and that should be enough!
The Author’s Character Work! Rainbow Rowell is really good at writing those quirky, oddball characters with plenty of complexity and a method to their madness. Each of them have their own distinctness to them, and you’ll never get confused with any of them or get their names mixed up. there’s an honesty about them in the sense that I feel like just about everyone in real life has met people who remind them of each and every one of these characters. There’s definitely a line straight down the middle and you either like a character or you don’t, there’s not a whole lot of in between, at least that’s the impression I got!
Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity.”
– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
What I Didn’t Like:
Her Sister Wren Abandoning Her…Wren was a real piece of work throughout this book, and I was so frustrated with her most of the time! How could she so easily ditch her sister without a second thought, especially when she knew the anxiety issues Cath has and all that they’ve gone through together growing up, then just replaced her with Courtney, which no offense to her, wasn’t really an upgrade. I get her behavior to a certain degree: with college and new beginnings, it is a normal reaction to want to strike out and try new things, to test the waters and experiment, but know where you come from and don’t take the people who actually care about you for granted!
Their Mother…What a bitch-a-rooney-dooney she was! I was totally on Cath’s side with this whole situation, even if a small chunk of me understood Wren’s need to have her come back into her life. But seriously… who ditches their family on 9/11? Like, the actual 9/11?!
Too Much Fanfiction…So it sucks to say this about the book considering a huge them about it was about writing fanfiction, but I was not a fan of the passages of Cath’s story that we got. I know it would’ve been worse to not have any of them at all in the story, especially since there’s such an emphasis on it, but I thought there was just too much of it. I liked the parts when Cath read it to Levi for the most part, but I also never really got a gay vibe from Simon and Baz that everyone was totally gushing about. Not that I’m not for a gay relationship between a fictional wizard and vampire, but I wasn’t sold on the execution of what we were given.
The Plot Felt Too Slow In Parts…This story did feel like it dragged in quite a few places, which can be a side effect of a character-driven story such as this one. Maybe it could’ve been a shorter story in general, or something totally shocking could’ve been added?
The Ending Could’ve Been More Grand…For some reason I was totally picturing a much bigger way to end the story, like the author of the Simon Snow franchise found Cath’s fanfiction on the internet and offered her a publishing collaboration deal or something like that. It felt like not as much actually happened by the time the actual ending took place, and it’d been a whole ten months of the school year!
‘No,’ Cath said, ‘Seriously. Look at you. You’ve got your shit together, you’re not scared of anything. I’m scared of everything. And I’m crazy. Like maybe you think I’m a little crazy, but I only ever let people see the tip of my crazy iceberg. Underneath this veneer of slightly crazy and socially inept, I’m a complete disaster.’”
– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is a cute, genuine, and real take on growing up during an eventful moment in a young girl’s life: starting her freshman year of college and having to deal with major change from what she’s grown up used to. It’s a coming-of-age story filled with distinct characters, humor, angst, fanfiction, and first love that I really enjoyed for the most part, but still felt like something was still just missing that keeps it from becoming a hit classic that would have a lot more people refer back to it. It’s character-driven, and maybe it just had too many slower moments to keep it from really picking up, plotwise. However, It invokes feelings of nostalgia from either your own college days or from the fandoms you grew up being a part of; the memories this book helps invoke certainly does feel like a little gift from the past to warm your heart, which I think is the main reason that a lot of readers really enjoy this title.
One addition I would to make is that the author has teamed up with Gabi Nam, and almost paying homage to her fandom roots and themes with this book, they’ve transformed this story into a manga! Check it out in the link HERE and I can say I’d definitely be interested to check out this version of the book myself! Maybe it’ll translate better into this format, who knows!
Another addition is that now that Fangirl is under my belt is how I now get to read Carry On, which stars Simon Snow, the author’s knockoff version of Harry Potter, and how it reads like the work that Cath was working on in this book! Someone told me it’s basically a gay version of HP and I was sold! I have a copy on my shelf to read, and once I have a few other titles read under my belt first, I can’t wait to see what Rainbow Rowell did with this idea.
Anyone who knows me, or visits this blog on more than one occasion, (hopefully) knows about this work in progress story that I’ve been working on-and-off for two years now. It’s going to be a coming of age story starring six young adults as they traverse through their years at a small, midwestern college, and slowly but surely become their own kind of chosen family.
I want the story to show themes of acceptance, finding yourself, personal growth, mental health, love in many forms (friendship, romantic, self, etc.), and consequences of the choices we make. It’s loosely based off my years at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, which have been the most influential and memorable years of my short life so far. I think it’s a story worth telling, and hopefully it can help someone who needs a story like this to land in their hands one day!
As I’m working away on my next draft of this project in both writing and editing, I thought I’d share a sneak peak of my story by sharing the first six chapters that introduce my six main characters: Matt, Eden, Jared, Madison, Luke, and Heather. By no means are these chapters I’m releasing fully completed, and they are subject to change as time moves forward, but why not share a little tidbit of what I’ve been working on to anyone interested in reading?
Be sure to check out my page dedicated to the development of this passion project of mine: you can find it on the top menu of my blog under WHEN IN DOUBT (WIP BOOK SERIES), or just click the link HERE! You can meet my main characters, listen to the Spotify playlist, follow the Pinterest board, and read about the process of this project so far and see how it’s developed over the last couple of years! Meanwhile, below is my current Chapter 1, which follows my character: Matt Anderson
Hope you enjoy!
Chapter 1: Matt
“Look honey, there’s the sign!”
Nineteen-year old Matt Anderson glanced up from his iPhone at his mother’s words and glanced out his window from the backseat of the family SUV. His dark eyes caught a blue highway sign that read “UW-Stout: Exit 41,” and his gut twisted and it became to breathe. His heartbeat accelerated like he’d just downed two cans of Redbull back-to-back.
Matt was moments away from officially beginning his Freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
Matt’s mother turned in her seat until she faced him with that scrunched eyebrow look almost every parent has for their child. “Have you talked to your roommate about what you’re all bringing? He knows you’re bringing the futon, right? When was the last time you two talked anyways? Are you sure you grabbed everything you’ll need?”
Holding in a groan from the rapid-fire questioning with a deep yawn, Matt ran his hands down his face and flashed a sheepish smile while removing one of his earbuds. “Mom, I’m pretty sure asking me if I have everything isn’t going to make a difference when we’re literally driving up the exit, but I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
“I know, but I’ve never sent a child off to college before.” Her voice went thick with the warning of falling tears. “Well, at least there’s a Walmart in case you think of anything later on….Oh! What about a fan?”
Matt hung his head in mock defeat. “Yes, mom…you were literally right next to as I bought one at Target last week.”
Matt’s dad chuckled as his mom rolled her eyes, once again faced forward.
“Okay Mr. On Top Of It All, I guess you’ve got it all figured out,” she replied. “Take it easy on me, this day is going to be hard for me. I’ve never sent my child off to college before.”
Matt grimaced and leaned back in his seat, guilt now seeping in along with every emotion he was already feeling. He knew his mom has been all over the place helping him in all the prep work over the summer with packing, finalizing tuition payment plans, dorm assignments, and orientation. She’s always been a helicopter parent merely because she just cared so much, and Matt had to remind himself to lay off every now and then; it wasn’t a bad thing to have a parent that cared.
Amongst his own jumble of nerves mixed with excitement over starting college, he sometimes forgot that he’d also be saying goodbye to his parents while he was “leaving the nest” as his grandpa put it, and would truly be on his own for the first time in his life. It both exhilarated and terrified him.
Back home, Matt felt like he’d never fully fit in anywhere or with anyone amongst his graduating class. It didn’t help how he was in the largest class to ever roll through Eagan High School with 753 students at his graduation ceremony; there were people sitting next to him whom he’d never even seen before until that moment. Either way, they’d grabbed their diplomas all the same as he did, ready to move onto the next chapter of their lives.
He’d had some friends to grab half-off appetizers at Applebees with after the Friday night football games, or to even just sit with in the cafeteria every day during his lunch period, but always felt like he’d never been fully integrated into any clique or group. He always felt like that loner always on the outside looking in, the character always hanging out in the back of everyone else’s center-stage life in the spotlight.
College was more than just that for him; it was an opportunity that he’d been patiently waiting for. He was no longer going to be the background character, he was going to start over and become a different version of himself, an enhanced version of himself. He was going to be more outspoken, he was going to make friends, he was going to go to parties and get drunk for the first time, he was going to make amazing memories and maybe—just maybe—feel like he belonged somewhere for once. Those were the goals he’d set for himself, but whether he could actually pull it off while getting over his searing anxiety about not knowing anyone else in an entirely new setting was another story. With the opportunity of a fresh start, he was also completely alone with no support system and absolutely no familiarity to help him along the way.
As quietly as he could so his parents wouldn’t notice, Matt took a deep breath to attempt rid himself of the sudden tightness in his chest and the pounding of his heartbeat that made it difficult to breathe. Freaking out before he even stepped out of the car wasn’t going to help with any of his aspirations.
Getting off the exit off I-94 East, the three of them arrived in the small town of Menomonie, which was going to be Matt’s official new home for the next ten months. Right off the exit was a large handful of the usual fast-food joints like McDonalds, Wendys, and Arby’s, along with several gas stations, motels, car repair shops, and a large Marketplace grocery store. It was all along one main road, and Matt watched as they drove down a hill towards a large body of water amongst the trees.
Next was large bridge overlooking a large lake that was actually reservoir on the Red Cedar River, with the small town of Menomonie wrapping along the shore off in the distance.
The UW-Stout campus also immediately appeared on the other side with several red-brick buildings that made up the northern end of the campus that smoothly transitioned into the downtown with plenty of small shops, restaurants, and cafés. There were of course a large amount of bars that were surely to be filled to the brim every weekend.
The UW-Stout clocktower dominated the skyline, and Matt glimpsed the feather at the peak with the sun beaming almost directly behind, giving the whole tower an angelic, ethereal glow. It was what was showcased on all the fliers, pamphlets, and even the website; it was like this town’s version of the St. Louis arch, the Golden Gate Bridge, or even the Empire State Building.
There was a line of cars forming down Broadway Street, and they followed until they reached the southern end of campus, where it seemed all the newly incoming freshman and their families were being directed into the massive parking lot of the Johnson Fieldhouse, the campus athletic facility.
Color-coded cones were everywhere, and they directed cars where to go, along with numerous groups of young people with matching colored shirts and wide smiles helping guide everyone along.
After about twenty minutes, Matt and his parents pulled up to the first station with a welcoming committee of overly-cheerful girls in front of enormous cork-boards that had sets of keys next to a bunch of numbers. They asked Matt what dorm he was in and what room he was in, gave him his room keys along with a gift bag before before instructing his dad to specifically follow the green cones over towards the freshman dorms.
“Wow, I must say I’m impressed with how organized this all is,” Matt’s mom commented afterwards as his dad drove forward. She turned down the country radio station, and Matt inwardly had to scoff; why did people have to turn down the radio when they were close to their destination? Like somehow it was going to help them understand the directions better.
Matt leans forward between his parents to look out the windshield. “Yeah, it’s almost like they’ve done this sort of thing before.”
His mother turns to him with a smarmy grin. “You know, I didn’t see a single Chipotle anywhere around here. Are you sure you’re going to be able to survive here without your daily fix?”
Matt now made sure to scoff out loud. “Yeah, asking me as we’re literally about to move into my dorm is some great timing there, mom, but I think I’ll be fine. If not, I’ll just be sure to make friends with someone who has a car.”
“Smart thinking,” Matt’s father said as he caught a group of students with matching green shirts all waving them over towards a specific parking spot.
As soon as the SUV parked, Matt and his parents got out and were greeted by the students while they all offered to help gather up all of his large bins of belongings, his suitcases full of clothes, the futon folded up in the trunk. Much to him and his parent’s relief, they would assist them in helping carry it all up to his room on the third floor.
Matt gazed up at the red-brick dormitory with the landscaped concrete walkway leading up towards glass doors of the main lobby. It was named HKMC for the four halls it was comprised of: Keith, Hansen, Milnes, and his specific hall: Chinnock. It branched off to the right of the main lobby and was paired with Milnes, which was specifically a girl’s dorm.
Matt’s mother immediately made herself comfortable and carried just a bedside lamp while walking alongside the students carrying Matt’s heavier items.
“I can’t tell you how relieved we are that you guys are all here to help out! I don’t know how these two would’ve done it all by themselves.” His mom laughed like she’d just told the world’s funniest joke while gesturing back towards Matt and his father, who were both highly unamused as they both carried something in their hands. She turned to the closest student. “How was this all organized anyways?”
A tall, athletic girl with a high ponytail flashed Matt’s mom a polite smile over the suitcase in her arms. “We’re the Track and Field team. Stout has it set up that all the athletic teams arrive here a few days early to help out with freshman move-in day.”
She nodded towards the next dorm down the street with more student-athletes in different shirts were helping other families. “Each team is assigned a dorm and helps everyone move in. It’s supposed to be a part of the ‘Freshman Experience.’”
Matt’s mom’s face lit up. “What a great idea! Matt, you should think about joining a team while you’re here. It’ll help keep you in good shape.”
Matt buried himself behind his suitcase in response. He pointedly ignored the several pairs of eyes now on him, especially the older guys with cutoff workout tanks, charming smiles, facial hair, and shredded arms. He cursed himself under his breath at how much his face burned.
The inside of HKMC certainly didn’t help cool things down either. There was no central air-conditioning, so after just one trip up the stairwell to the third floor, everyone broke out in a sweat. Matt had at least remembered to bring two fans with him, but maybe he should’ve urged his parents to splurge on the window AC-unit the university offered for an extra hundred dollars. He wondered if it was worth bringing it up as he wiped his forehead with his free arm.
The group stopped in front of Chinnock 316, Matt’s assigned room, and he fumbled with his keys as once again all eyes landed on him. He made sure to not pay attention to a particularly attractive guy lift up his shirt to wipe the sweat off his brow, and finally opened the door to an empty dorm room, the shades pulled tight to darken the room in shadows.
“Looks like we beat your roommate here,” Matt’s mother commented while everyone piled in.
While the members of the track team unloaded everything, Matt wanted to snap some snarky remark like “no shit, mom,” but instead responded with a low grunt as he set down his backpack.
Back during his orientation in the spring, Matt check-marked the box to let the UW-Stout Housing Department match him with a random roommate, which is never a good gamble, but what choice did he really have? Once July came, they’d emailed him saying he was paired with someone named “Thomas Thornfield.”
Immediately logging onto Facebook and scrolling through his profile, Matt had deducted that they wouldn’t become friends based off how little they seemingly had in common. Thomas was a total gamer (not that there was anything wrong with that), but Matt always preferred to read a book or catch up on whatever wrestling show he missed that week. Nonetheless, Matt had started a message thread so they could introduce each other and figure out who’d bring what when it came time to move into their dorm together. They’d be living in an eleven-by-fifteen foot room together for the next ten months, they might as well try to get along with each other.
Once everything was inside the cramped space, the track athletes all said their goodbyes as they walked out the door to go back and help out the next family moving in. Matt’s mom immediately sprang into her house-cleaning mode.
“Alright honey, I will put away your clothes if you and your father want to adjust the bed and move the futon,” Matt’s mother said. The air in the room was warm and stuffy, so she pulled the shades and opened the window to try and get some airflow inside, then all three began the arduous task of unpacking everything he brought.
Not even five minutes passed when Matt’s mother sat down at his desk chair and pulled a bottled water out of her purse while him and his father attempted to lower the lofted bed down a peg or two. They weren’t sure if the bars were completely back inside the slots, so Matt tested it out by climbing up top, and it’d seemed secure enough at the time. It was a little bit wobbly, but who knew how old the bed frames were anyways?
“So, how do you feel, college man?” His mother asked while she remained seated. “Has it hit you quite yet?”
Matt pinched his shirt and aired himself out. “I feel winded to be completely honest, but that just might be because, you know, I’m actually putting stuff away.”
His mother’s smile dropped. “Watch your step, son.”
Matt raised his hands in surrender and apologized. “I guess I’m just nervous since I literally don’t know anyone here or have any idea what’s going to happen, you know?”
Some warmth returned to his mother’s expression. “I know, and it’s completely normal to feel that way, but remember how you’ve been saying how you’ve been ready for this?”
“Yeah, that’s because I just needed to get the hell—,” Matt mumbled another quick apology “,—heck out of Eagan, because it sucked for me back there.”
“Well, and I could tell you were miserable, but now you’re here, and can finally start over. You can have a fresh start like I bet you’ve always wanted.”
It was freaky how sometimes it felt like his mother could read his mind, because that’s exactly what he’s been been excited for since he’d started applying for schools about a year ago. Sure, the thought of having to meet an entirely new group of people was also terrifying, but it couldn’t have been worse than how he’d had it back home where someone’s reputation was pretty much set ever since elementary school.
Before he knew it, Matt was all moved in. His half of the dorm room was already feeling like his cramped and tiny new home. He stood with his parents in the middle of the room as they all took it in.
His mom’s eyes started to well up with tears. “Well, it looks like this is it…I can’t believe my son is about to begin his college career!”
Matt’s mom embraced him with her shoulders shaking, and he moaned despite everything. If someone else cried around him, it’d only mean he’d start crying too, and he couldn’t be known as the guy on his floor who cried while hugging his mom as soon as he moved in.
His father chuckled off to the side. “You’re fine, he’ll be home for Thanksgiving.”
His mom gasped. “But that’s so far away, what will I do with myself until then?”
Matt struggled to disentangle himself from her surprisingly firm embrace. “You know you have another child, right? His name is Bryce?”
His mother scoffed even while her eyes welled up. “Oh please, we all know he’d rather be out smoking god knows what with his friends.” They all laughed at that as she let him go.
“You could always just come home with another random dog like you did before,” Matt suggested.
His father hmmpthd. “Yeah, that’s not happening ever again.”
His mother laughed. “Agreed, that was a onetime deal.” She turned back to Matt with a sad smile. “But can you at least call every now and then so I can hear your voice, please?”
Matt slowly grinned down at his mom with a warmth in his chest, an ache he hadn’t expected started to . “Of course I will, you know I will.”
His mother’s shoulder’s sagged in relief. “Alright, well we promised your grandparents we’d meet them for lunch back in the cities afterwards, so we better get going before traffic becomes a total nightmare.”
Matt shifted his weight with his hands in his pockets. “Okay, I can probably finish off the rest of the unpacking and see what else is going around campus.”
“We love you, my son,” his mother’s eyes started to well up with tears again. “We are so proud of you, and we know you’ll have the time of your life while you’re here.”
Matt felt pressure behind his eyes and had to look away, so he turned toward his dad, who wore a cheeky little grin.
His dad patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t only call when you need money, okay?”
Matt snorted but retuned his smile. “I’ll do my best.”
His parents said their final goodbyes, and once they walked out that doorway and disappeared down the hallway was when it finally hit Matt square in the chest so hard that it was like the wind got knocked out from him.
He was truly on his own for the first time ever. He wouldn’t come home to a home cooked meal almost every night, he’d have to finally figure out how to do his own laundry, and he’d have to remind himself to finish his homework and set his alarm for the next morning.
Before, he’d always complained about wanting to move out and not have to deal with constant nagging, but now he questioned whether he was truly ready for it all.
~ ~ ~
The sun by now was high in the sky and the weather couldn’t be more perfect on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. The UW-Stout campus was alive with all the other newly incoming freshman moving into their dorms while saying goodbye to their loved ones; the mixed feelings of anxiousness, uncertainty, but mostly excitement was absolutely contagious and practically hummed in the air.
Matt decided to put in his earbuds to add some rhythm to his step while he took a stroll through the lively campus to soak it all in. It sure beat twiddling his thumbs while sitting alone in his room. The final straw was how he’d actually considered walking around the floor and introducing himself to the other guys while they moved in to try and get over his shyness, but that immediately drew a big, fat NOPE from his inner voice of reason.
He’d never admitted it to anyone before, but he secretly enjoyed making playlists for just about everything: his favorite books, or even just for sleep, relaxing and rainy days, when he was down and depressed, and even upbeat and happy. He’d even made one for this day.
As he walked across the quad between the dorms and the nearby dining hall, he had some rhythm to his step with bands like Yellowcard, Third Eye Blind, and Hot Chelle Rae.
As he passed by North Hall, Matt noticed the football team was out front helping others move in. All of the athletes wore their navy-blue and black Blue Devils jerseys, and Matt wondered if he’d ever make it to a game at some point during the season. It’d feel weird since instead of being under the Friday night lights, their games would be at noon the next morning.
One particularly handsome player with a perfect smile and hair said something to a group of his teammates, causing them all to bust out in laughter. One shared some intricate handshake with him while a couple of girls smiled in appreciation before whispering to each other, the sway of their hips in short, cutoff denim even more noticeable than before.
Matt watched it all unfold before he regarded himself and dejectedly noted his un-styled short brown hair, t-shirt, worn out sneakers, and cargo shorts combo. That, along with his semi husky figure, convinced him that he was probably never going to be like Mr. Alpha over there anytime soon if ever.
Half an hour later, he returned back to his room to find his roommate, Thomas, was already moved into his side of the room. He was seated at his desk with noise cancelling headphones over his ears with an attached mouthpiece, and he was playing some shooting game on his laptop. He slammed his hands on the desk causing Matt to jump.
Thomas repeated himself to whomever he was playing with while continuously pounding away at his keyboard. “C’mon man! You gotta look behind you, or that asshole will just keep fucking us up!”
After standing there for about five minutes or five years, Matt feigned a cough and exaggerated his movements, to which Thomas finally glanced up and noticed him for the first time. His thick spectacles caught a flash of light coming from the window. “Oh, hey man! I just gotta finish this level real quick, then I’ll be done.”
Matt nodded, but Thomas was already back to his game before he could even respond. With a deep sigh, Matt slumped down onto his futon underneath his bed. In between more cussing and pounding keys, he heard Thomas mutter, “Nah man, my roommate just walked in, so we gotta chat for a sec.”
Well, this is off to a great start, Matt thought to himself.
While he continued to wait, he silently took in the other side of the room his new roommate took over. Back in their Facebook messages, Thomas had insisted he’d bring his own TV and PlayStation, both of which were already set up on a cheap looking stand most likely from some old relative underneath his own lofted bed. Shoved up against it were enormous semi-clear storage bins full of wrinkled clothes, tangled cords, and multiple wireless controllers with another filled with snacks like instant ramen, hot chocolate packets, protein bars, Cheetos, Capri Sun juice boxes, and double-stuffed Oreos.
Physically, Thomas was a bigger guy sort of similar to Matt’s body type, but he seemed more like someone who put personal hygiene pretty low on his list of priorities: his black hair stood up in random spots, there was some odd odor that definitely hadn’t been there before he’d moved in, and his fingernails desperately needed to be trimmed. A chill ran down Matt’s spine as he imagined the sound of something scraping across a chalkboard.
Were they going to have to talk about these issues, or should Matt just stay silent and let it all slide? He had absolutely no idea.
Somehow, he didn’t imagine his freshman year starting of quite like this…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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!
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.
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:
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?