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romance

Heartstopper (Vol. 1)

Charlie is seated next to Nick one morning in class, and it starts an unusual friendship. See, Charlie is quiet and shy, and also happens to be one of the only gay person in his all-boys school; Nick is a rugby player a grade above him. So it’s a surprise to Charlie when Nick asks him to join the rugby team. What’s even more surprising in that learning from Nick, Charlie starts to get good at it! He also starts falling for the older boy the more they hang out, which is not a good idea. Nick is about as straight as they come. Charlie’s deepening friendship with Nick makes Ben, Charlie’s fling, jealous and possessive. Nick stands up for Charlie, only making his crush worse. As they get closer, Nick starts questioning himself too… is Charlie more than just a friend to him?

This welcome addition to the growing LGBTQ+ representation in graphic novels is very cute. It’s sweet without being saccharine and feels real without being overdramatic. The tone is just right, as is the pacing. We are pulled along by the boys’ heartstrings as they get to know each other, and by extension themselves, more.

Quick, lively linework and a non-traditional panel layout capture high school’s frenetic energy perfectly. The primary color is mint green in thin washes to build up value. Black and white is used as well. The monochromatic palette allows for greater focus on the story and characters. While the character designs seem simple, they are very effective in conveying the character’s emotions.

Overall, this was a highly comforting read. This is only the first volume, and so ends on a cliffhanger, but I can’t help feeling that it’ll all turn out okay. For a light, quick, sweet read that’s chock-full of LGBTQ+ representation, look no further.

– Kathleen

Oseman, Alice. Heartstopper (Vol. 1). 2020.

Sugar (Vol. 1)

Twenty-three year-old Julia Capella is a student trying to put herself through college. It isn’t easy after using her tuition money to pay her sister’s medical bills after she was in a horrific accident. John Markham is a successful businessman, but freshly divorced. At his business partners, Richard’s insistence, he goes to a “sugar party” – one where older men and younger women mingle in hopes of becoming sugar partners. It’s an arrangement where the woman agrees to be the man’s partner (from platonic to romantic) in exchange for monetary allowances or other material goods. Richard swears by it – it saved his own marriage, after all! – but John isn’t so sure. That changes when he and Julia meet. He knows she’s in financial trouble, but Julia won’t take charity and her romantic sensibilities refuse to engage in a relationship where she feels like a hooker. They eventually agree that Julia will become his partner – his sugar baby – as long as Julia pays the money back. Their relationship started as an arrangement, but could it turn into something more?

This is the start of a companion series to Sunstone and Swing, both of which I’ve heard of but have yet to read! Both of these series are adult romance series, with sexually explicit material. Sugar is no different, but it appears to be more on the tamer side than Sunstone (which is about a lesbian couple who are into BDSM). The love scenes here are tender and not overly graphic.

What’s most interesting to me about this story are Julia and John themselves. They are both struggling, which makes them sympathetic. Though they have the same views as their audience at first about sugar babies and daddies, they communicate openly and honestly to come to a mutual agreement. That’s the strongest aspect of this graphic novel, I think: showing how important communication and boundaries are in any interpersonal relationship, whether or not it’s romantic.

The art is manga-esque in a few different ways. First, the features of the characters have long features and large eyes: Julia in particular, to suggest youth and innocence. Second, much of the details are in the characters and not in the backgrounds, to keep readers’ attention on the people and their relationships. Background effects such as hearts and bokeh bubbles are used occasionally, to highlight important parts or heightened emotions. While it’s not a manga, the art deliberately skews in that direction, to remind readers they are holding a romance story, such as they may find in popular romance manga.

As this is a sexually explicit graphic novel, I’d give it to older teens and adults, maybe younger high school students depending on the maturity of the reader. Teens could learn much from Julia and John’s example of communication about their relationship. Everyone else will fall head-over-heels for this romance – I know I have 😉

-Kathleen

Hawkins, Matt, Jenni Cheung, and Yishan Li. Sugar (Vol. 1). 2018.

Fresh Romance (Vol. 1)

Romance isn’t really my thing. I’ve read a few romance novels, but I find the actual romances uninspiring, forced, or too problematic – definitely not romantic! So I picked this one up already pretty ambivalent about it.

I’m happy to report I was pleasantly surprised by this anthology! There are four stories inside, all romances, but of differing flavors ;D

  • School Spirit by Kate Leth, Arielle Jovellanos, Amanda Scurti, and Taylor Esposito. High school friends Miles, Corinne, Justine, and Malie are planning for prom and graduation. Malie and Justine want to go together, but their relationship is a secret and they’re not sure if they’re ready to make it public. Corinne has a magical gift and technically isn’t allowed to date mortals like Miles. Will prom night be the one night they’re allowed to be themselves, and together? Or will they find themselves ripped apart by those who don’t understand? A sweet and salty tone combined with inclusive characters and brightly colored artwork made for a delicious read.
  • Ruined by Sarah Vaughn, Sarah Winifred Searle, and Ryan Ferrier. A historical romance that begins on Catherine Benson’s wedding day. She marries Mr. Andrew Davener, a lucky marriage to be sure, after Catherine was involved in a scandal the previous summer. They are both nervous around each other, each keeping secrets of the past from the other. How are they to rebuild their reputations and make their marriage work? This one ended on the worst cliffhanger!!! I’ll be seeking out the second volume for sure to find out what happens! The art is clean, simple, and yet bearing that certain expressiveness and dignity called to mind with classic English literature. Beautifully rendered.
  • The Ruby Equation by Sarah Kuhn, Sally Jane Thompson, Savanna Ganucheau, Steve wants, and Sonia Harris. Ruby is stuck working in a coffee shop on Earth making people fall in love. Gross! She knows she’s destined for more, and she can’t wait to finish this mission so she can herd laser seahorses in another realm. She can skip making multiple matches if she makes one big, great match – one involving an individual who’s given up on love entirely. I found the art too overly detailed and cluttered in this one to really get into it.
  • Beauties by Marguerite Bennett, Trungles, Rachel Deering, and Kris Anka. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast in which the Beast is captured by Beauty’s father, a merchant prince. The prince and his first two daughters each love the Beast, but as a possession. Beauty loves him as an equal, and frees him from her family’s prison. How are they to hide when they are being hunted? The artwork looked like old woodcuts or prints like you might find in an old volume of fairy tales.

Overall, I enjoyed this anthology. There was something in it for all kinds of romance readers – even the reluctant ones like me 😉

– Kathleen

Various. Fresh Romance (Vol. 1). 2016.

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