Here is the review of the “Nick and Charlie” book BookTok is currently obsessed with. The book pretends to be the best #BookTok Romance book.
The content is provided by M.M. Hattab, one of the BookScouter blog contributors.
Though Alice Oseman’s latest novella is the very definition of ‘fan-service’ in many ways and may not satisfy non-fans as a stand-alone work, it still has enough weight to get a very much not-teenage and extremely cynical reader invested in its central teenage couple and their future.
Nick and Charlie picks up the narrative a little after Oseman’s Heartstoppper series of graphic novels ends: an unlikely friendship between artistic manic pixie dream boy Charlie Spring and cheery, sport and dog-loving ‘Rugby lad’ Nick Nelson develops into a crush, then deepens into Nick’s ‘full-on-gay-crisis’ before settling into a touching and convincing relationship.
In the original series of novels, Nick and Charlie (who also appear as peripheral characters in Oseman’s debut Solitaire) navigate some of the universal conflicts of the YA genre, like family strife and parental worries. Some of their trials might be more LGBTQ-specific, like Nick discovering for himself that coming out is never a ‘one-and-done’ process, or Charlie’s anxieties relating to homophobic bullying at their all-boys school. The first two volumes also touch on Charlie’s struggles with disordered eating and OCD, alongside Nick’s perspective as the worried boyfriend, viewing Charlie’s dysfunctions from the outside and having to learn as he goes. Particularly wrenching are his efforts to understand, then the realization that it isn’t his role to ‘cure’ or ‘fix’ his partner.
Here, Oseman speaks to and aims to perhaps educate an already very switched-on audience about the intersections of mental health and LGBTQ identity, her touch with dialogue and the ways her characters communicate through texts and online is light and shot through with realism. The rhythms of speech feel right, as anyone who’s ever attended a British secondary school or sixth form college in the last decade or so can attest.
The novella Nick and Charlie addresses a common flashpoint in many a ‘basic teenage relationship’: leaving home for college or university. Understandably excited about this new phase in his life, Nick has something of a blind-spot, unable to see Charlie’s apprehension about being ‘left behind’ and the pitfalls of a long-distance relationship while he finishes school.
Through a series of banal missteps and misunderstandings, what begins as an argument leads to each convincing himself that the relationship is over. Like any good romance, there’s also some not entirely helpful outside influences from well-meaning family and friends. Oseman also doesn’t shy away from the fact that none of us is ever wise in the heat of an argument: both Nick and Charlie, for all their abundant charm, have moments of malice, pig-headedness, and selfishness. The turn towards seriousness and maturity for both as they come through this crisis is also signalled here by more text and fewer of Oseman’s delightful comic panels (though they aren’t stripped out entirely).
Of course, as several characters say, ‘it’s Nick and Charlie’: code for coupledom founded on more than shallow ‘cinema-and-Nandos’ dates. As much as this reader recoils from the notion of predestiny, together or apart, they’re impossible to resist.