graphic novel, LGBT

My Review: Heartstopper (Vol. 2): by Alice Oseman

Publish Date: July 11th, 2019
Number of Pages: 320 Pages
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
Genre(s): LGBT, Graphic Novel, YA Fiction

***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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!

Conclusion:

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!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

LGBT, Romance

My Review: Boyfriend Material: by Alexis Hall

Publish Date: July 7th, 2020

Number of Pages: 432 Pages

Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca

Genre(s): Romance, LGBT

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Mum patted him reassuringly. ‘Oh, Oliver … I am sure you are one of the best gays.’

I glanced back to find Oliver looking faintly flustered. ‘Mum, stop ranking homosexuals. It doesn’t work like that.'”

— Alexis Hall, “Boyfriend Material”

In the summer of 2019, news was spreading quickly about a queer romance between a fictional first son of the first female president (also fictional) and the prince of Wales. It was one of the biggest queer romance titles simply because it had such a mainstream marketing campaign and got so much attention when compared to almost any other story like it previously published. Growing up, I was questioning myself and my sexuality, and one of my favorite places to go was always the bookstore. It would’ve made the doubt, the questioning, the fear, and the initial self hatred so much easier if there’d been more LGBT titles being showcased like there is now, which is why I’m so happy that younger readers have so many more titles available so they don’t feel so alone with so many questions.

Cut to the summer of 2020 a year later, and there’s this book that is also a summer queer romance release with the minimalist style that seems to be taking over the romance-genre book cover design with two handsome looking men, who of course look like total opposites! That that, plus the title being “Boyfriend Material,” I was instantly hooked and knew I’d love it.

Maybe this means there’s going to be that one big M/M romance novel released every summer? If so, I’m way more than A-okay with that!

I will admit this was a slower read just because it’s more character driven, which is a norm when it comes to romance titles, and lately I’d been making it a point to read more Fantasy-genre titles over romance, so this was a strange change of pace. The humor is what really keeps you going until the romantic feelings start to develop between the two main characters. I know, that’s not necessarily a selling point, but for anyone who enjoys quirky and extremely particular characters and british-style humor will get a kick out this title.

I will say this title isn’t as great as Red, White, and Royal Blue in the sense that this book doesn’t sweep you away as much because the romance in that was so whirlwind and enchanting and magical, and the romance in this title is much more grounded and realistic and down to earth, and also maybe therefore more relatable.

I don’t know about most readers, but it was actually so scary how much I could relate to the inner conflicts that both the main characters–Luc O’Donnell and Oliver Blackwood–were dealing with. Luc had a hard time growing up with a rockstar dad who ditched him and his mom when he was three, and he’s had run-ins with the paparazzi and them capturing all Luc’s less than stellar moments. He’s had a hard time being able to trust people, so he keeps himself at a distance emotionally so he doesn’t get hurt again, but it’s left him with a lot of self hatred, depression, and feelings of hopelessness. Oliver also has his own issues, but I don’t want to go as in depth about that because part of that is the whole experience of reading it for yourself, but all I can say is how I so deeply related to both the main characters and their inner struggles. That alone is what made this book one that I really enjoyed!

Since it’s a romance title, I suppose I’ll talk about that specifically too. The romance that builds between Luc and Oliver was a well drawn out slow burn of what is not necessarily enemies-to-lovers, but more haters to lovers, and there is a difference! At first, these guys don’t get along, they couldn’t be more opposite from each other in terms of lifestyle choices, clothing style, and even locations they frequent. Both of them need dates to certain events in order to stay off the hook from nosy parents, or to keep a job–which is totally illegal, but read the book for that whole argument–so through a mutual friend, they agree to be their fake boyfriend. It’s a rocky start, but as they hang out, test each other on basic facts, and get to know each other better, that’s when the tension builds and you see little moments or words said that makes your heart quench and you want to squeeze something out of pure affection.

These weren’t just your whatever kisses. They weren’t take it or leave it, get your coat on pulled kisses. They were everything I thought I could never have, everything I’d been pretending I never wanted, telling me that I was worth it, that he’d be there for me and put up with me and wouldn’t let me drive him away.

Oliver Blackwood was giving all that to me, and I was giving it right back. In the clutch of hands and the press of bodies and the urgent heat of his mouth on mine.”

— Alexis Hall, “Boyfriend Material”

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

Wanted:
One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.

I don’t want fine. Fine isn’t enough. It’s not about the open fire or whatever other clichés you can conjure up, but yes, I want a connection. I want you to care as much as I care. I want you to need it and want it and mean it. I want it to matter.”

— Alexis Hall, “Boyfriend Material”

What I Liked:

  1. The Humor! Perhaps one of the funniest books I’ve read ever if not this year alone, I really did find myself laughing at some of the lines the author dropped in this book, from both character’s dialogue to having Luc being our narrator throughout the course of the story. Some of it went over my head because some of it was definitely that british humor that’s not everyone here in America’s cup of tea, but the characters were all so distinct from one another; they all had their particular quirks that you came to expect from them whenever they appeared, and whatever they said or did. From Luc’s coworkers to his diverse inner circle of friends, it did feel over-the-top in some parts, but as you read on it’s exactly what you’d expect from each and every one of them all the same. The Nerd Daily‘s review on Goodreads said it perfectly: it’s like one of those 90’s sitcoms like The Nanny where it had that particular slapstick type of humor, but it works in the right setting!
  2. Both Character’s Inner Struggles! So I really felt the pain and inner turmoil that both Luc and Oliver deal with that makes them both believe there’s something wrong with them and they’re incapable of love. I won’t go into too much detail over what they are exactly, because part of the reading experience is figuring it all out for yourself, but man oh man…I can just say I’ve been where they’ve been and I still am somedays too. It made me root for them and their happiness even harder; great character development!
  3. Luc’s Mom! You know those mom characters that are just gems, and they absolutely steal the show/scene everytime they make an appearance? Luc’s mom is such a delight being a former french rockstar from the 80’s, and can’t cook at all which is a huge part of her charm, even with the crazy 85 year old lady who’s her best friend.
  4. Luc’s Friend Group! They had such a unique dynamic that I really enjoyed! There’s Bridgett who we see the most of; she’s super bubbly, always late, and works for a publisher and thinks she’s getting fired with every little fire that pops up with a client. There’s Tom, a young Idris Elba doppelganger who works for some secret service that has him travelling to undisclosed locations. There’s Priy, who’s an extremely gay muslim girl with braided hair, and will kick anyone’s ass who touches her pickup, and lastly, there’s Charles Royce-Royce (Yes. Both are named Charles Royce and got married).

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Ending Was Rushed…This is becoming such a consistent issue with contemporary romance titles being published in recent years–at least it’s an issue for me–is how the ending feels so tightly packed, crowded, and/or just so last minute. The ending of the book is so important because sometimes it’s what leaves one last impression of the whole story with the reader, and I’m just not a fan of this occurrence happening, especially in books I really like or love!
  2. The Whole Thing With Luc’s Dad…So minor spoiler alert, but not really…. Luc’s dad, who ditched him and his mom all those years ago, is back out of the blue because of one reason that’s not the TV show he’s a judge on: he has cancer. That’s also not the reason why I have it under this part of the review, it’s more about how this subplot ends that I was less than enthused about.
  3. No Smut…Now, this is such a minor issue in all seriousness, but based off what I’ve read in the past, the fact that this book treats the romance scenes in a more fade-to-black kind of way was a bummer. Without going into too much detail, Oliver is really uptight and stuffy out on the streets, but wicked in the sheets, but you only get a minor impression of it in the book!

Conclusion:

Another hilarious, charming, and entertaining M/M romance title of the summer! It felt like Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall was this year’s version of Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, which was by far the one really big LGBT romance that was a huge summer hit.

I recommend this title to anyone who love’s the LGBTQIA+ romance novels, I know I say this literally every time I post a review of them, but I’m so happy to see so many more titles in the queer romance genre that are being published + are actually mainstream, and aren’t hidden away in some off to the side shelf if you were to try to go looking for it in the local bookstore.

The playful banter, the hilarious characters, the inner conflicts of self doubt and isolation will grab your heart and pull you into such an endearing, character driven story of two unlikely guys who fall in love under the popular “fake relationship” trope.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell