Heartstopper: an adorable and refreshing love story for the ages
Please note this post includes mild spoilers for the TV series.
The few of you that actually follow my blog with any regularity might be shocked to find me doing what is essentially a series review. I could lie and say I’m centering it on how to write a good adaptation, but frankly I just want a reason to rant about this INCREDIBLE series that has become my latest obsession.
“Heartstopper” is a queer, British coming-of-age drama that is so sweet your cheeks will hurt, so well characterised you’ll forget you’re not the target audience, and so authentic you’ll find yourself forgetting these characters are not real people. I can’t fault it, and I can’t remember the last time I read, watched or experienced any kind of story where I hadn’t wanted to tweak it just a little bit.
Hey, I’m an author and a teacher. It’s an occupational hazard!
What is clear from Alice Oseman’s writing is that this is a story for young people (queer or otherwise) and she is not going to sugar-coat the teenage experience to make it more palatable for anyone. There are bullies, there are homophobes, there is teenage angst, depression, mental illness. Kids are let down by their friends, parents and teachers… and raised up just as much. Before Charlie and Nick’s story starts, we learn that the former was accidentally outed last year and the subject of some bullying because of it. It’s had an incredibly realistic impact on him that isn’t magically fixed even when his parents, friends and later boyfriend support him—and something that goes into a lot more depth in the comic book series, but I shan’t spoil that here. Everything is so incredibly sensitively handled I’m wondering if I can use it in a lesson at school.
One of the things so pleasantly refreshing about this series is how so damn nice the main characters are towards each other. The side characters of Elle, Tao, Issac, Darcy, Tara and Tori are incredibly supportive and affectionate towards each other. I’m so used to seeing teenage dramas where characters get into arguments over nothing and rarely ever touch that it’s so lovely to see a series which a) features actual teenagers in the roles and b) shows friends that are physically affectionate and caring towards one another. It’s not only more realistic but models how young people should act—with empathy that Hollywood would have you believe they are incapable of.
The art of storytelling is not one unique to books and I believe that, as writers, we can learn a lot from watching films and series. Heartstopper is, without a doubt, an excellent adaptation. You know the line, “the book was better?” it is very hard to work out which medium is better, because they are both done so, so well. At the heart of this was the decision to have Oseman write the screenplay. Most lines were taken directly from the original comic, but she has recognised the need for more conflict by adding in a few key changes. Whenever you’re writing a story, you have to know what the main conflict is and how it is resolved. The comic book goes on a lot longer, whereas the TV series ends with Charlie and Nick officially becoming a couple. The characters arcs are thus far more defined: Nick comes to terms with his sexuality, dumps his rubbish friends, and comes out to his mum. Charlie learns to stand up to those that have wronged him and accept that he is worthy of love. It’s beautiful and perfectly paced.
I’ve always believed that a story can be told without a real villain or without much plot providing there is plenty of inner conflict and that the characters are interesting and dynamic enough to carry the rest of the tale. Heartstopper does this and then some. I could have watched hours of these crazy kids just hanging out and being adorable. The sweetness never feels saccharine, thanks in part to the incredible chemistry between leads Kit Connor and Joe Locke. They are simply stunning.
Another thing the show changes is increasing the roles of the side characters which hopefully it will continue to do in subsequent seasons (it is getting another season, right? It HAS TO). Fans seem almost as involved in Tao and Elle’s not-quite-yet romance as they do in Nick and Charlie’s… and who can blame them?
In summary: Heartstopper is the most amazing story I didn’t know I needed, and I will follow Nick and Charlie to the ends of the Earth!