MMGM and #IMWAYR: Beetle & the Hollowbones and Heartstopper!
Hi hi! This is a very sudden blog post—I've been thinking semi-deeply about what I want to do with this blog in the future, but I also realize I should quit agonizing over that and instead squeal about some books on the Internet. And I must say, assembling this post delivered the most wonderful short-term emotional benefit—I hope reading it will do the same, so let's dive in!
Beetle & the Hollowbones
Since I've already read and reviewed this book once before, I figured it served as a good place to beta-test a new review format—bear with me!
This book features:
- A twelve-year-old goblin named Beetle who is loyal to the very end, dramatic in the best ways, and always ready to write fanfiction
- A skeleton sorceress with over 2,000 followers who is way more complex than you'd expect
- A shape-shifting gelatinous ghost who deserves all the hugs and no more hardship
- Beetle's goblin grandmother, whose love and wild escapades would make her best friends with Granny Blue from The Key to Extraordinary
- A magical mall filled with monstrous inhabitants, gumball machines that dispense screams, the most wild basement of all time, and the Worm of Endearment ("It has no moral compass")
- Visual gags for days—for days
- Moments of unease and, ultimately, self-discovery that will resonate with any queer person
- A poignant exploration of how abusive people keep others subjugated yet always ready to forgive them
- A pitch-perfect ending full of heart-pounding adventures, followed by immense love and compassion for every character
Why. Did. I. Take. So. Long. To. Read. This???
I'm being silly with the phrasing, but seriously—I don't know what insane psychology was going on in my subconscious and preventing me from reading this series, when (a) I know actual people who like it, (b) it's absurdly popular and beloved, and (c) it was obvious both before and especially after reading volume 1 that it is perfect for me!!!
I don't even know what to say that isn't just excited screaming (often par for the course with these reviews), but I'll try to focus here. Charlie and Nick are adorable, for two main reasons. One, they are incredibly kind to each other, and everything is so not-dramatic between them—no matter how everyday an interaction they are having, the love just hums in every single word they say to each other. And it helps that they have all these facial expressions and responses and they're standing near each other and it's all so wonderful and cute I can hardly stand it. Geez.
Now, besides all the cuteness and love and sweetness (and I swear, it's not nearly as sickly-sweet as I make it sound, it's just everything you could ever hope for in a relationship), we've also got plenty of depth and real-world issues. Like, seriously—to the point where I am so glad I was in the closet all of high school and didn't date, because I cannot imagine exes and future partners all running around in the same halls as me every day while other students look on and gossip behind my back. I literally want so much better for these two kids than they actually have...it's so wild.
A really key element to all this is that Alice Oseman is a book wizard—this series is so absurdly popular precisely because of its absurdly high quality, and no matter how little any of us understand the technical storytelling mechanics of why it is good, we can feel the warmth and realness and richness leaping off the page at us anyway. Rainbow Rowell describes this book in her blurb as "Beautifully paced," and I'd agree—this is one of those books where every single moment flows in a fully rational, well-thought-out way, without any confusion.
And continuing on that same note—this book does really wild craft things in terms of comics and I am so here for it!!! The pages are sparse, with white space and large panels—which I think does a perfect job of representing the larger-than-life feelings this story is capturing. Part of how Oseman accomplishes this comic-panel economy is by sometimes including dialogue without panels—they'll have a whole bunch of speech balloons when a character is overwhelmed by others' opinions, or they'll throw an (adorable) emoticon in a balloon to represent the speaker's tone without drawing a whole extra panel. She also does this thing that happens in The Magic Fish where a moment gets split into several panels that draw your eye across the scene and make the emotions feel fragmented and frozen—so good. And most importantly, we have the leaves. You know, the sort of romantic leaves that fall around people in movie scenes and whatnot—but on basically every page. As if love is a force that follows these characters around no matter how far they try to run from it.
This volume of Heartstopper totally ended on a cliffhanger, and you can rest assured that I've already ordered three more volumes in the series and thought about reading Oseman's other novels and totally committed myself to this fandom I am absurdly late to. Heartstopper is a gift to this Earth, and frankly, you are missing out on a profound, smart, soothing, emotional-rollercoaster, and most importantly, kind series of books if you decide not to read it!
(Oh, and did I mention there's a show? Written by Alice Oseman? I can't even deal with that yet, y'all—my heart can only take so much.)