Alice Oseman slams decision to fine Hungarian bookshop for selling Heartstopper: ‘Sad and angry’
Heartstopper author Alice Oseman has spoken out about a decision to fine a bookstore in Hungary for displaying unwrapped copies of their classic queer YA graphic novel.
But even before the success of the TV series, Oseman’s original stories were already flying off the shelves. Last year, the Daily Mail estimated she was selling about £1 million worth of books each month in the UK alone – reportedly putting her ahead of David Walliams, Jack Reacher author Lee Child and even JK Rowling.
The Heartstopper books follow sweet and sensitive gay student Charlie Spring and his rugby lad crush Nick Nelson, played by Joe Locke and Kit Connor respectively in the Netflix series. For many queer youths, the stories did what others were yet to do: they told a tale of being young, out and queer – with minimal violence and trauma.
Despite the positive impact the novels and series have had on young LGBTQ+ people, Heartstopper remains a point of contention for some right-wing countries and states.
Last week, Hungary’s second-biggest bookshop chain, Lira Konyv, was handed a fine of 12 million forints, (approximately £27,800 or $35,900), for having the graphic novel on display without it being in sealed packaging.
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Hungary passed a law in 2021 that bans LGBTQ+ content from being accessed by minors. Bookshops are required to ensure that children’s books that feature homosexual or transgender content are put in “closed packaging”.
Supporters of the law regarded the move as “helping to fight pedophilia”, although human rights groups denounced it as baseless anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination.
“Really sad and angry to hear about this happening. Queer young people deserve to see themselves in literature. Queerness is not inappropriate for kids,” she wrote.
“Sending love to everyone fighting this and supporting queer books.”
The author’s statement has already been praised by queer people in Hungary, with one person tweeting: “Alice Oseman posting about what’s happening with queer books in Hungary right now means our voice is finally being heard outside Hungary.”
In a statement given to Reuters, the creative director of Lira Konyv, Krisztian Nyary, vowed to fight the fine. “As this is a resolution about a fine, it cannot be appealed, it can only be attacked – in what way, our lawyers will assess… we will use all legal means at our disposal,” he said.
Heartstopper isn’t the first book to be sanctioned in Hungary. In 2021, the Hungarian distribution company behind children’s book What a Family – a combined translation of Lawrence Schimel’s Early One Morning and Bedtime, Not Playtime! – was fined £650 ($840) because the book depicts a same-sex couple as parents.
The debate about LGBTQ+ content in books has made headlines in the US too. Earlier this year, the American Library Association (ALA) revealed that the number of attempted book bans in US schools and libraries in 2022 was higher than any year since the organisation began keeping a record more than 20 years ago.
This Book is Gay, by British author Juno Dawson and George M Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue are two of the most-banned books in the country. Books tackling topics including racism and racial inequality have also faced mass banning in the US.
In March, one Florida school district banned Heartstopper as well as Oseman’s earlier novel Radio Silence.
“Racism, homophobia and transphobia are thriving under the guise of ‘concern for children’. This is not just a US issue either,” Oseman warned in response. “We’re seeing the exact same ‘concern’ in the UK.”
Earlier this month, London-based children’s museum the Young V&A was criticised for removing Rowan Ellis’ trans-inclusive book, Here and Queer: A Queer Girl’s Guide to Life, from its gift shop.
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