Heartstopper is a recent addiction of mine and one that has changed my life in ways I can never fully explain. I had missed out on the craze when the first season released on Netflix, and it wasn’t until just a bit after the second season dropped before I got to it. I suppose I have the Cosmic Circle podcast to thank for it, as it was during preparation for our LGBTQ Representation episode that I decided to give it a try. After watching both seasons multiple times, I purchased all the volumes of Alice Oseman’s graphic novel and consumed them faster than any book in my life. I tore through all four volumes, page after page, in a matter of hours and had to patiently wait for the release of Heartstopper Volume 5.
But the wait is finally over, as the Heartstopper Volume 5 finally arrived in my hands in late December. The next chapter in the lives of high schoolers Charlie Spring and Nick Nelson continues exploring the trials and tribulations of young love in the LGBTQ+ community.
In this new volume, Oseman inches our main characters closer to adulthood, as they navigate their first sexual encounters, graduate high school, and what the possibility of long-distance will have on their relationship. Charlie, Nick, and all their friends are growing up, and the real world is headed straight towards them.
[Warning: Spoilers from Heartstopper Volume 5 are below!]
Charlie Spring has come a long way in Heartstopper Volume 5
The journey of 16-year-old Charlie Spring in the previous volumes has had some high peaks and low valleys. While Heartstopper itself is the story of Charlie and Nick’s relationship, beginning with their faithful “Hi” to each other in class, it’s evolved to explore deeper aspects of both of their lives and those around them.
Charlie has come a long way, struggling with an eating disorder and eventually receiving help for that and other mental health disorders. It hasn’t been easy, with his difficulties impacting his immediate family as well as Nick, but when we begin Volume 5, he finally seems like he’s in a good place.
He’s talking to a psychologist regularly and has developed a new relationship with food, even during difficult times. He and Nick are also in a good place, which is a feat unto itself, being that it’s their first relationship, and they’ve gone through a lot of stress in such a short time. But they are truly good, at least for now.
Charlie has come a long way and yet, there is still one relationship in his life that struggles with. His mother clashes with Charlie frequently, seemingly against his happiness and his relationship. At least, that is how it seems to a high schooler.
Heartstopper Volume 5 dives a bit deeper into her past, helping readers to understand where she’s coming from and why letting go is so difficult. As Charlie becomes more confident in himself, he and his mother develop a deeper understanding of each other, which leads to some resolution. She learns that Charlie isn’t a child anymore, but has become a smart young man, who is not fragile or in need of protection like he was at the height of his eating disorder. This relationship is almost a staple of this volume, which enriches the story of Charlie and Nick as well.
But this isn’t the only way Charlie grows. Throughout this latest graphic novel, we see him become more comfortable and sure of himself. He’s been haunted by his physical scar and body dysmorphia, which not only impacts his intimacy with Nick, but also his desire to push himself out of his comfort zone.
This changes drastically, although not without some trouble. Charlie’s recommended for the Head Boy of his school as the novel opens, which causes him a great deal of shock and terror. Why him, seems to be a common question that percolates through his head, as he is unsure why anyone would want him as a leader or what he could do to help those at Truham Grammar School. There’s an excitement at the prospect, which is initially overshadowed by the anxiety. This is paired with the anxiety of being asked to drum in front of a crowd, which is about as far out of his comfort zone as Charlie has ever been.
Over the course of the story, Charlie learns to accept himself in and out of his relationship, he becomes more at peace, which will be necessary if Nick moves away from home.
Nick journeys outside his comfort zone as well
Nick Nelson is doing his best to be happy and healthy in his new relationship. He, being the absolute golden retriever of a human, is the perfect boyfriend to Charlie. He’s supportive, present, and caring. However, his actions in life are dictated by his relationship and not what’s best for him, such as picking a university after grammar school.
This decision is never easy, but Nick decides to stay closer to home so that he can be closer to Charlie. Part of him isn’t ready to change the dynamics of his first relationship, but his decision is also being influenced by his worry and perception about Charlie and his mental illnesses.
This conflict comes to a head when he, along with Tara and Elle, goes on a road trip to tour universities. Nick believes he has found his place at Leeds University, which happens to be a few hours from home. Can Nick and Charlie weather the distance? That question remains for Heartstopper Volume 5.
Nick and Charlie take their relationship to the next level
Amongst the university visits and the confidence building, Nick and Charlie are looking to make the next step in their relationship. Previously. The couple has agreed to keep the intimacy to kissing and cuddling, but both are feeling much more comfortable with each other. In fact, both Nick and Charlie have become more interested in having sex with each other, but neither wants to broach the subject first. With more intimacy comes conflict, such as Charlie allowing his body (and his scars) to be seen by another.
This huge step in intimacy is one of the core conflicts of Heartstopper Volume 5, as they grow a deeper love for each other. Losing your virginity is always scary to some degree, but sharing that experience with another, especially one that you love more than anything, helps to lessen the load.
The way that Oseman handles this relationship event is special, as it shows the clumsy awkwardness that comes with it, as well as the beauty that such a moment holds for all involved. It’s fascinating watching this young love transition from nothing to something much deeper, especially when we know partially where it’s headed (read the novella Nick & Charlie if you don’t).
Final thoughts on Heartstopper Volume 5 by Alice Oseman
This new volume of Heartstopper is perhaps the best one so far from Alice Oseman. Their artwork remains consistent from volume to volume, providing a whimsical effect to the story.
Volume 5 contains significantly more dialogue than some of the past volumes, but it makes sense when you consider the content at hand. When love is just beginning, you can communicate a ton with just looks and graphics. However, when discussing things like sex, trauma, and familial relationships, many of those things need to be talked about through dialogue. The words and narration don’t take away from the original structure of Heartstopper in the slightest, but enhance it and push it in a different more mature direction.
I appreciate the work that Oseman put in to have the difficult conversation. Their works help normalize so many things for the young adults reading them. Seeing characters who are openly gay at such a young age is heartwarming, as it wasn’t something I could easily have in high school.
It normalizes the LGBTQ+ experience for all those who are young and concerned about bullying for being who they are. They also show that things such as disordered eating and mental health issues are something that anyone can experience, and getting help isn’t bad. As a psychologist, this is one of the best aspects of this story.
Heartstopper Volume 5 moved me in ways I wasn’t expecting. Watching Nick suffer through feelings of anxiety and depression at the prospect of being separated from his first love hurt more than I can express. I think most of us have been in his shoes in some way, shape, or form. The worry of losing someone close to you, especially that special first love, leaves a mark on your heart. As the reader, I wanted so badly to tell Nick that regardless if it worked out or not, he was going to be okay.
Alice Oseman has a way of creating characters that you cannot help but become attached to. Part of that is, as a gay man who grew up in a different time than these teens, I get to live vicariously through them as they experience something I never got to have. It’s both a comfort and heart-wrenching, which has never been as strong as in this book. They are nearing their end, and I’m both excited and terrified to experience it with them.
Heartstopper Volume 5 is available now! Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord if you’ve read it and what your thoughts on this volume are!
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