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How Isaac’s Reading List on HEARTSTOPPER is Diversifying Booklists

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Jeffrey Davies


Jeffrey Davies is a professional introvert and writer with imposter syndrome whose work spans the worlds of pop culture, books, music, feminism, and mental health. In addition to Book Riot, his writing has appeared on HuffPost, Collider, PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and other places. Find him on his website and follow him on Twitter @teeveejeff and Instagram @jeffreyreads. He is also the co-host of a Gilmore Girls podcast, Coffee With a Shot of Cynicism.

There’s nothing a good bookworm loves more than a fictional character, be they from a book or a movie or television series, who shares our love of reading. It’s a good 90% of why Gilmore Girls remains as perennially beloved as it is. But as fans of Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper series know, Rory Gilmore simply packing a book with her everywhere she goes cannot even hold a candle to Isaac (Tobie Donovan) on the Netflix adaptation. This boy is seen reading in almost every frame of film he appears in on Heartstopper.

Naturally, our fellow readers got to work on documenting every book that Isaac is seen reading in season 2 of the beloved queer teen romcom. Heartstopper only continues to grow in popularity, especially among young adults, so it might even come to pass that, in time, it will become more influential than Gilmore Girls, at least in terms of literature. Sure, Instagram nostalgia accounts love to get their Rory on by reading their way through her own reading list from that series. But as an equally devoted fan of Gilmore Girls, I can attest that the Rory Gilmore reading challenge can be as boring and pretentious in a way that the series managed not to be.

The premise of Heartstopper revolves around the messiness of growing up, which can get even messier with queer kids. In a nice homage to the message of the series as a whole, Isaac’s books are about as gay as they could possibly be, at least on a show as gay as Heartstopper. As we chronicle each book that Isaac is seen reading throughout season 2, not only do they reflect some of the challenges the characters face in this latest installment but also a clear foreshadow of Isaac’s realization in the season finale that he might be asexual — a criminally underrepresented letter of the LGBTQIA+ alphabet.

Isaac — who, as dedicated fans of the series will know, replaces the character of Aled Last from Oseman’s graphic novel series — was more of a wallflower throughout the first season. He’s still sticking to his comfort zone for the most part in the second season, but we are soon privy to learn that there might be something more to his seemingly antisocial behavior as he repeatedly gazes around the room at romantic couples, appearing apathetic and returning to his book. Things start to get complicated when James (Bradley Riches), another young queer student, starts displaying feelings towards Isaac.

Oseman, who writes the Netflix adaptation of her graphic novels, was clever to start sub-textually suggesting that Isaac might be grappling with queer feelings during the second season by way of the books he’s seen reading. After all, the wallflower characters deserve a storyline of their own as well. One book he’s seen reading in the first episode of season 2 is I Love This Part, Tillie Walden’s YA graphic novel about a budding romance between two teenage girls. It is an obvious ode to Tara and Darcy’s (Corinna Brown and Kizzy Edgell) romance, of course.

Later, when Isaac and James are paired up to put together a Pride Month display for June, James asks him if he’s read Bi by Ritch Savin-Williams, to which our bookworm king replies with a smile, “Of course I’ve read that one.” As lead character Nick Nelson (Kit Connor) is grappling with coming out publicly as bisexual in the second season, bisexuality is at the forefront of the friend group’s minds. But as Isaac is so quick to say he’s read a book about bisexual and pansexual youth, it’s clear he might be working his way through these queer books to chip away at his own sense of identity.

As the character makes his way through equally queer books like We Are Okay, Boy Erased, All Boys Aren’t Blue, Oseman’s own Loveless, and even The Importance of Being Earnest, not only has Isaac amassed a lifetime of knowledge about queer people that most fully grown adults will never achieve, but he has also provided younger readers with any number of queer classics to seek out, either out of sheer curiosity or on their own quest to discover their sexual or gender identities. Heartstopper is something that previous generations of queer people have marveled at and embraced because it’s a series that would never have existed, at least in how it was written, even 10 years ago.

All these queer classics lead Isaac to the book he finally needs most in the season finale: Angela Chen’s Ace. This is a book I sought out after finishing the second season since I was shockingly uneducated about asexuality.

It’s all well and good that other fictional characters famous for their reading choices, including but not limited to Rory Gilmore, Matilda Wormwood, and Don Draper, are still encouraging devoted fans of the character to seek out their favorite books in an attempt to feel closer to them. But in the case of Heartstopper’s Isaac Henderson, his reading list is not just available for fans to download and get the warm fuzzies. It’s also a call to action, a subliminal waving of a Pride flag in a world that still wants to do away with queer people.

Most real-life queer bookworms are happy to give you some queer book recs, but now that Isaac’s reading list exists, directing friends to that will surely be a little load off our shoulders.