First of all, the book is absolutely beautiful, both the cover and the actual content of the book. It's really thick and well-made with amazing illustrations. The vintage style of the comic is lovely in my opinion, and has a lot of character to it. The clothes the characters wear are so cute. I'd love to draw them someday. I particularly liked it because of the setting. I'm really getting into German-based stories!
As for the story... Wow, it made me laugh, it made me cry, it inspired me so much. It was even breath-taking in places. Firstly I was nervous to read it. After all, one of the main topics of this book is suicide, so I was pretty hesitant to try it, as it would be too sad. The Heart of Thomas IS really sad, but not the depressing kind of sad. It feels more like when someone you love has passed away, but it was a long time so it isn't so painful to think about it, and you can just smile a little thinking of the memories you shared. Kind of like that, but that's just what I feel when reading it.
Set in an all-boys boarding school in Germany, either before or after World War II, a teenage boy named Thomas commits suicide after the Easter holidays, causing his whole school to erupt with suspicion. Thomas had an unrequited love for Juli, who shunned him in front of the whole school. A boy named Erich transfers to the school, and he is almost identical to Thomas - so much that almost every boy in the school either asks him if they're brothers, or just directly call him Thomas. He falls in love with Juli also. Eventually, Juli comes to terms with his feelings for both Thomas and Erich, and leaves to become a priest.
All the characters are so interesting, and even complex in some cases. You think you know somebody, and there are actually more and more layers you have to dig through to find the person inside. Juli especially.
At first, he rubbed me the wrong way. The way he had such disregard for a person who had just died a violent death made me dislike him, especially when I found out he was the reason of the death. In the beginning I went from thinking the reason Thomas died was because of suicide, and at one point, I even considered that Juli could have murdered him! It kept me in constant suspense, especially in that one scene where he threatens to kill Erich whilst straightening his peer's tie.
Soon, I realised he was actually more of a victim than anyone, really. His cold, sometimes Sociopathic attitude all came down to feeling ashamed of himself for being physically (and even sexually) abused at school. Not only that, but because of his duel German-Greek nationality that gave him his 'exotic' black hair, he was hated by his grandmother. That changed my feelings about him entirely.
Then there's Erich Fruehling. He's very easily agitated, easily jealous, and gets into a lot of fights at school. At first he was home-schooled at his home in Köln, where he had very little interaction with others. I'm not quite sure if he's in love with Marie, his mother, but he certainly does have an obsession with her. Whenever she had lovers, he would become very jealous of the men, and even go so far as to attempt to choke himself to death. He's unsuccessful, and it becomes a kind of neurosis/'hysteria' that causes him to faint and become ill. When Marie fell in love with one Austrian man so much she wanted to marry him, Erich was furious and went to attend Schlotterbetz Gymnasium. It may make him appear selfish, but I actually think that his mother is quite self-centred, too. Marie died in an accident whilst he was away at school, and understandably, he was heart broken. However, this seemed to make his neurosis a little better with time. He finds himself falling for Juli, the prefect.
Oskar Reiser is a seemingly lazy, delinquent student. He has a cool aura about him by the way he smokes despite it being against the school rules. However, he proves himself to be a very understanding, insightful friend, who acts very well no matter what the situation is. He knew about the dark things that happened to Juli and stood by him until the end. In fact, he has his own problems. Some very troubling problems that would cause anybody to panic. Yet he always keeps his cool. I think he is definitely one of my favourites in this series.
There is a lot of religious imagery in The Heart of Thomas. Most notably, a lot of characters sporting angel wings and long flowing robes. I'm not religious at all, so I can't tell if they're accurate or anything, but I did find it very beautiful to look at.
For those people who are reading this for the 'BL' side of things, it could leave you disappointed. I'm only really interested in a more shounen-ai, sweet, fluffy romantic side of the BL genre, so this was perfect for me. Hardcore sex scenes? Hardcore yaoi? I'm sorry, but this is not what you're looking for. The most you will find is a few kisses on the cheek every so often, so it's pretty innocent compared to some books. Moto Hagio has been nicknamed as the "founding mother" of shoujo manga, especially shounen-ai.
For a comic written in the 1970s, it was a really risky thing to publish. It features some pretty dark themes; suicide, self-hatred, abuse, incest, and racism in some cases. Not only that, but it included homosexual characters and adolescent love - something that would have been a little bit hard to sell at that period of time, to be honest. Nowadays, generally, people are more accepting of those kinds of things, thankfully. I can commend the author for her bravery at such a risky comic. It must have been a very anxious feeling at the time of publishing in the 70s. Well, that's what I would have felt if it were me.
Another reason this book means a lot to me is that I can identify to one of the characters. Usually I have a hard time connecting to people (fictional and in real life) and when I found Momoko Ryuugasaki from Kamikaze Girls I was really happy, as she had a lot in common with me. This time, I found that I could connect to Erich Fruehling. For one, he has a fiery, defensive side at first, but after you get past that barrier, he is really sweet and kind in places. Also, it is mentioned somewhere in the book that he suffers from "Hysteria" which is today known as Conversion Disorder. I was really stunned to find a person in a novel who suffered from conversion disorder, especially as it is such a rare and unknown health problem! And considering this was written in the 1970s, perhaps even rarer! Erich has fainting spells in stressful situations, and heaven knows I have to deal with that a whole lot, especially in the past.
This book is amazing, and I recommend it to any lover of shoujo manga. Well, I can feel a whole load of fanart and fanfictions for this story coming on; and I definitely have to track down Les Amitèis Particulières!