Reading into the Heartstopper universe

Poppy from our Teen Advisory Board takes a closer look at Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper series adaptation; specifically, what is the key bookish character of Isaac seen reading throughout the television series – and would you enjoy the books, too?

All fans of the graphic novel series Heartstopper will be excited to read Alice Oseman’s latest volume (Volume 5), and just like me, will be rereading her books and rewatching the Netflix series adaptation in anticipation. But when they're finished, what else can you do? The fandom will already know that books almost become characters in their own right during the first season on Netflix. Introducing a new character named Isaac for the series, Oseman has created an avid reader who is always pictured with a book in his hands, and this theme continues in season 2.

These books are a perfect way to delve into the mind of Oseman and the narrative of Isaac. Below is a selection of the books he reads, across both seasons, which would be wonderful holiday reading for yourself or as a gift for a Heartstopper fan.

★ Season 1

Oseman enjoys playing with viewers. Isaac is often pictured reading a book from the middle of a very long series, and then shortly after, seen reading another book from a completely different series. In episode 1, this is evidenced with Isaac reading Frank Herbert’s Dune Messiah, the second volume in the lengthy Dune series. There are six books in this science-fiction series, with the first following a young man who leads a desert army in a battle to control a valuable spice. It explores themes of power, politics, and human suffering.

Soon after in episode 3, Isaac is pictured reading an introductory guide to physics written by world-class physicist Leonard Susskind and data consultant Art Friedman. Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum shows the diversity of Isaac’s reading. This nonfiction work provides an easy to comprehend explanation of these complicated concepts. Susskind and Friedman do this through step-by-step exercises and engaging content.

With a return to a fiction series in episode 4, Isaac begins Holly Jackson’s YA Good Girl trilogy. He starts with the first novel, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. Full of red herrings and plot twists, the story follows the lead character Pippa investigating a five-year-old murder that she thinks isn’t so straightforward.

Going back to a classic, Isaac is seen holding Pride and Prejudice while the gang is playing Monopoly in episode 5. Jane Austen’s novel has themes of love, wealth and family and follows Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy and their turbulent love story. A fantastic read with Isaac’s, and my own, recommendation.

Arguably the most direct message to viewers of the series occurs in episode 5. Isaac is reading one of Oseman’s YA novels Radio Silence. This book tells the story of Aled, one of Charlie’s friends in the Heartstopper comics who is replaced by Isaac in the TV series. Also, if you listen very, very closely while Tao and Elle are having a conversation, you can hear Isaac telling Nick the story of Radio Silence. Oseman’s YA novels (Solitaire, Loveless and I was Born for This) are great reads in themselves, separate to the Heartstopper graphic novels series.

★ Season 2

Isaac has lots of character development over these epiodes as he works through his sexuality and Oseman seemingly uses the books he is seen reading to signal his thinking. In episode 1, he begins Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, which follows Devon and Chiamaka who discover a secret society and begin getting targeted by an anonymous texter. This book contends with homophobia, love and murder.

While Isaac is exploring his possible crush in episode 3, he reads Book Lovers by Emily Henry. This rom-com is about a literary agent, Nora, and her love interest, Charlie. This heartfelt read covers themes of family, mental health and the power of a good book. We can see why Oseman puts this in Isaac’s hands!

Isaac is also seen reading Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay in episodes 2, 4 and 5. This novel follows an 18-year-old college student whose mother has died. It is focused on mental health, but also reminds the reader how friends can be important in tough times. Oseman seems to be suggesting that Isaac needs to be reminded of his friends and how he can confide in them throughout the entire season.

A major plot point in season 2 is a school trip to France. Isaac’s reading develops a distinct French flair as a result. This includes Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables in episode 4. The book centres on an ex-convict over many years and addresses the social issues in 19th century France, something Isaac learns about in Paris. Also in episode 4, Isaac starts The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. This classic fable encourages the reader to look deeper, beyond the surface. The third French novel that Isaac reads in Paris is Albert Camus’s The Outsider. Not exactly a light-hearted read, it’s another literary classic about a murder and the meaninglessness of life, but interesting, nonetheless.

If you need holiday reading for yourself or a gift for a Heartstopper fan, consider this selection of books featured within the show. These books are a way to explore further into the mind of Oseman, as well as the narrative of Isaac more specifically.

Cover image for Heartstopper: Volume Five

Heartstopper: Volume Five

Alice Oseman

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