Review: The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis

9780143309031After reading Will Kostakis’ book The First Third and being a gargantuan fan, I knew I had to try his latest novel, The Sidekicks. And it was brilliant! (Although I confess to loving The First Third more.) This is mostly because the format in The Sidekicks threw me off a bit, but if I’d known to start with it was going to be from three points-of-view, I would’ve been a lot more prepared. As is, I was so emotional by the end I could feel my glacial heart melting. And that’s the kind of reaction I want in a book!

The story is basically about the death of Isaac and how it leaves his three friends (Ryan, Harley and Miles) all to piece together their lives without him. The twist? Ryan, Harley and Miles aren’t friends. They barely even know each other. Isaac was their link. The death affects them all very differently and they have to (A) own up to knowing darker things about Isaac’s past, and (B) accidentally start working together, and (C) learn to let go.

At first I was dubious that I might not care enough because I didn’t “know” Isaac…but I definitely did end up caring! You get to know Isaac a bit more through some flashbacks. And I loved how the three boys started to depend on each other and help each other out…like they were filling the holes Isaac left. The #SquadGoals were immensely awesome.

Like I said, there’s 3 POVs, one from each of the boys. It’s a short book (under 300-pages) so it doesn’t leave us a lot of room to get to know each boy, but I think the story still did an admirable job of pulling us into Ryan, Harley, and Miles’ worlds.

So a brief run down on the three parts of the story:

  • It starts off with Ryan who is a dedicated swimmer and is also gay but so deep in the closet he’s having tea with Mr. Tumnus. Ryan’s mum is a teacher, so he’s pretty much the goody-goody of the squad. But he also harbours a lot of fears and anxieties about who he is and what it would mean to come out.
  • Then we have Harley. The writing changes styles drastically here and goes rather stilted and jagged to represent how Harley is not very studious at all…and is known to drink and perhaps pass along drugs. But he still has one of those “mildly bad boy golden hearts” which was winning! He had such a good soul.
  • Lastly there’s Miles. I really loved Miles who is a socially-inept nerd and incredibly smart and also runs some black-market operations. He is the one who doubts if he even meant anything to Isaac, who was his only friend…until Miles gets caught up with Ryan and Harley. Miles was really blunt, but still a squishable gem who I really felt for! His ache over losing Isaac was the most palpable.

 

I think the strengths of the story definitley lie in the character development! If only it had been a bit longer, because I would’ve loved to get to know each boy just a bit more deeper than the short chapters allowed. But the plot was amazing, with a little bit of mystery, and a whole lot of heartache, and a good dash of hope. I’m endlessly in love with how these characters’ stories unravelled and I loved the diversity representation and how it wasn’t cliche or stereotyped! The book was, naturally, amazing.

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5 Reasons To Read The First Third By Will Kostakis

It recently hit me that I hadn’t read The First Third by Will Kostakis yet and this is a huge tragedy. Why? Because this is a diverse Australian YA contemporary and it came out in 2013, so why did it take me so long to read it?! I’m glad I launched in this year, because it was stupendous. I definitely recommend it.

And in case you need more convincing, I have a glorious list of 5 reasons why you should try this book!

9780143568179What’s it About?

Life is made up of three parts: in The First Third, you’re embarrassed by your family; in the second, you make a family of your own; and in the end, you just embarrass the family you’ve made. That’s how Billy’s grandmother explains it, anyway. She’s given him her bucket list (cue embarrassment), and now, it’s his job to glue their family back together. No pressure or anything. Fixing his family is not going to be easy and Billy’s not ready for change. But as he soon discovers, the first third has to end some time. And then what? It’s a Greek tragedy waiting to happen.

 

6 Reasons To Read The First Third

1. It’s about a Greek family!

I personally think this is immensely exciting because firstly (A) yay for diversity in YA fiction, and (B) Greek culture is absolutely wonderful and I was so excited to dive into more of it! Bill has been raised in Australia but his grandmother is still very very Greek and he abides by a lot of Greek traditions. I loved absorbing the bits and pieces of culture as I read.

 

2. It’s very family focused.

Of course there is romance, because Bill is 17 and kind of concerned that he’s never managed to keep a girlfriend (like, he kisses them and they run away #awkward). But the book is more focused on his Grandmother who’s in hospital for liver failure, and on Bill’s two brothers. Bill’s brothers are…let’s just say…not the best and his older brother lives in Brisbane and is NEVER around. And his younger brother is deep in a moody-angsty-teen stage. Bill’s way of trying to relate and connect them is equal parts hilarious and endearing.

 

3. There is so much Greek food.

Hello to reading about GLORIOUS GREEK FOOD! My mouth was literally watering at all the descriptions. The very first chapters is a messy and chaotic meal (with a hundred dishes in Tupperware containers) in the hospital with the grandma. It’s hilarious and delicious. Wait I’m not even sure I should be praising this book here because it made me downright hungry. Excuse me while I go devour my paperback.

 

4. It involves a bucket list.

I’m so addicted to lists. I write lists ALL THE TIME. So any book that involves a list is going to turn me into a wildly rabid fan. Even though Bill’s grandmother’s liver problem isn’t being dubbed as fatal or anything, she still has written a bucket list and demanded that Bill complete it for her. It basically involves getting his mother a new husband and getting his brothers to start talking. So, just all slightly impossible.

 

5. It really values friendship too!

Bill has an epic friend, Lucas, who is downright hilarious, gay, and also has cerebral palsy. I loved their banter and how eager Lucas was to help Bill complete the impossible bucket list — even though the way they go about it is sometimes dubious. But they were totally friendship goals. I loved them!

 

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Australian YA: Meet Will Kostakis and The Sidekicks

SidekicksWill Kostakis has a great reputation in the world of Australian YA. He seems to be vastly energetic and enthusiastic and is viewed with enormous affection by readers of YA.

Will’s new YA novel The Sidekicks has just been published by Penguin Books Australia.

It’s a poignant, appealing story about three disparate guys in Year Eleven with one thing in common. 
Olympic hopeful swimmer, Ryan is exceptionally well drawn and endearing. 

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Will.

What’s your background and how else do you spend your time?

I balance my time between working as a freelance journalist and writing books. As my career has developed, I do less of the former and more of the latter, which is a dream come true. I like to keep as active as I can – if I had my way, I’d spend my days stuck to my desk, so I break up long stints at the computer with walks and swims.

Why did you write The Sidekicks?

First ThirdThe First Third was intended as a love letter to families, but one of the more surprising aspects for me was just how much I enjoyed writing the central friendship. I knew I wanted my next book to explore male friendships. That want, coupled with a desire to reflect on what it was like to lose a close friend in high school, inspired me to write The Sidekicks.

Could you tell us about your main characters and how they interact?

I wanted three distinct protagonists, who acted and reacted in three distinct ways. There’s Ryan, the school’s prized athlete, Harley, the smart-arse, and Miles, academic powerhouse slash evil genius. They grieve in different ways, and they don’t get along, at least not at first. The deceased Isaac was sun and they orbited him. The Sidekicks is them rebuilding their lives without someone to orbit and tracing a path back to each other.

What about their mothers? (you write about families with such affirmation)

I am so clearly the product of a single-parent household, and I think my works’ consistent focus on mother-son relationships reflects that. I see YA as books about teens on the edge of the rest of their lives, of adulthood, and you can see that at play with the way the boys relate to their mothers. While Ryan’s is a quiet army (albeit ever-present and suffocating), Harley’s is absent, and Miles’s is so light-hearted and warm, my favourite mother in the book is Sue. She is mourning her son’s death and her passages really epitomise that transition from teen to adult.Kostakis

I know it’s only just been published but have you received any responses from readers about The Sidekicks that particularly resonate with you?

Given the novel has three very different protagonists, it has connected with readers for various reasons, but what resonates with me the most is the way readers have embraced Ryan as he struggles to come out. Writing him gave me the confidence to come out publicly myself. While we’re very different, his journey echoes mine, and to see readers of all ages, genders and sexualities throwing their support behind him… It’s been surreal.

What are you working on at the moment?
Ah, loose lips sink ships! I will say I’m loving it. Hopefully I won’t have to keep it secret much longer.

IlluminaeWhat have you recently enjoyed reading?
I recently finished my second reading of Jay Kristoff and Amie Kauffman’s Illuminae … Even better the second time. There were so many details I missed!

All the best with The Sidekicks, Will.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

YA Reading Matters

NonaI’m just back from Melbourne for the second time in a month. Despite busy May in the book world, this was my long-awaited chance to attend ‘Reading Matters’ conference, which is organised by the Centre for Youth Literature (CYL) and focuses on YA literature and storytelling. Presenters aimed their content at librarians and teacher librarians; and aspiring or other authors would also have benefited from the program. The overall theme of diversity is hot on the heels of a US movement.

Before the conference began, delegates were invited to the Text Publishing party where the winner of the 2015 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing was awarded to Kimberley Starr, author of The Book of Whispers. Her book sounds like an original historical fantasy set during the Crusades in a world of demons. I wonder if it will be a cross between Catherine Jinks’s Pagan stories and Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy?

This is ShynessThe Text party was one of the weekend’s highlights, particularly because I met one of the Text Prize’s former winners, Leanne Hall. Her first YA novel, This is Shyness, is one of my all-time top three YA books. I can’t wait for her novel for younger readers, to be published in 2016.

The Reading Matters conference started with a panel of three teen readers, overtly selected for their physical diversity. Male rep, Chris, began by praising The Sky So Heavy, which was fantastic because author Claire Zorn had been incognito in the audience until then. He also clarified that ‘YA lit’ is a category, not a genre. There are genres such as speculative fiction and historical fiction within YA. The three panellists agreed that upcoming books should cut the romance – they’re over love triangles and insta-love/lust (instant attraction) and forget the suicide books. They simply don’t want to read them.

Authors on other panels didn’t necessarily agree about the teens’ views on romance although Will Kostakis was instructed by his editor of The First Third to write a big kiss scene. Will told us that he writes ‘awkwardness’ and ‘embarrassing’ well so that is where he took his scene. Will also wants his readers to experience the emotional side, rather than just the mechanics, of relationships.First Third

Along with other panellists, Will made some good points in a panel called ‘Hashtag Teen: Engaging teens and YA advocacy’. He turned a reluctant writing class around by running a whole lesson on Twitter. He also recommended  PTA (Penguin Teen Australia) where there’s a weekly chat. Authors such as Amie Kaufman (The Starbound trilogy) even drop in.

These Broken Stars

Hip-hop, today’s spoken poetry, raised its head unexpectedly and powerfully twice. Year 12 student, Jayden Pinn from Creative Rebellion Youth performed two lyrical, metaphorical, hard-hitting pieces. And founder of CRY, formerly illiterate Sudanese refugee and now awarded performance poet, Abe Nouk encouraged us to feel, not always think; say a prayer; deliver a service – smile; use a comma, not a full stop (don’t end, keep going); be kind and gracious; invest in people; and do not be afraid to reveal your insecurities to your pen. Abe credited hip-hop with changing his life.

Tom Taylor, Australian creator of the current Iron Man and other international comics urged us to recognise comics. His comic for young readers, The Deep, deserves a wide readership.

Clare Atkins made some important points in her sessions, particularly about consulting with someone from a different background or group you are writing about. She did this with an Aboriginal friend in Nona and Me . (See my review here.) Authors shouldn’t avoid writing about other ethnic groups if they consult respectfully.

On a Small Island‘Literary Landscapes’ was another of my favourite sessions because it took an interesting perspective by exploring the landscape behind books by Clare Atkins (Arnhem Land), Sean Williams and Kyle Hughes-Odgers.

Jaclyn Moriarty and Sean Williams’s debate on ‘Science Vs Magic’ was fresh, articulate and intelligent. Jaclyn challenged Sean with two wands but he retaliated with a laser. Jaclyn Moriarty is a lyrical speaker and delegates later mentioned that they ‘could listen to her all day’ – exactly what I was thinking. She and Sean had a feisty, ultimately gracious, battle.

Keynote international authors, Laurie Halse Anderson (The Impossible Knife of Memory) and Sally Gardner (I, Coriander; The Door That Led to Where) both had horrible childhoods. Laurie told us that she writes ‘Resilience Literature’ and explained that good stories teach you about the world; about falling down and how to get up.I Coriander

One of the most exciting parts of the conference was discovering authors hidden in the audience such as Melissa Keil (The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl), Claire Zorn (The Protected), Margo Lanagan (Red Spikes) and Karen Tayleur (Six).

Brisbane Writers Festival Dazzles

Analogue MenThe  2014 Brisbane Writers Festival had an inspiring launch on Thursday night when author/publisher Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, What is the What – about the lost boys of Sudan) told a full tent  about the genesis of McSweeney’s publishing company and its 826 Valencia Writing Centres. The tutoring behind these pirate, superhero and other themed storefronts has helped countless children with their writing. Groups doing similar work in Australia are Sydney’s Story Factory with its Martian Embassy, Melbourne’s 100 Story Building, and Book Links in Queensland is working towards its own centre.

My next session was ‘Dangerous Allies’ where Robert Manne interviewed Malcolm Fraser in front of a capacity crowd. The insights about Australia’s alliance with the US were provocative and chilling.

‘Zen and the Art of Tea’ was a light-hearted exploration of tea by Morris Gleitzman and Josephine Moon. Josephine’s tip about brewing lavender, garlic or basil to make teas sounds worth trying and Morris – a literary Geoffrey Rush – was hilarious. He personified coffee as a bully, and tea as a whispering lover.

David Hunt was in fine form discussing his Indies Book winner, Girt which is a retelling of Australian history with a comedic eye.

It was fun to cross paths with David Malouf (for the second time in two weeks), Jennifer Byrne, Will Kostakis, Pamela Rushby and Tristan Bancks. If only there was more time for more sessions … I would have loved to see YA writers such as A.J. Betts, Isobelle Carmody and Jackie French but they were either offsite or clashed with my events. Andy Griffiths was so popular he had his own signing area after the other children’s writers’ part of the program had finished. Chairing Andy and John Boyne (Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) a few years ago was one of the funniest times of my life.

Forgotten Rebels of EurekaThis year I was privileged to moderate sessions with Clare Wright on The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka (Text) and Nick Earls on Analogue Men (Vintage). Clare must be the world’s most informed person in her field of women at Eureka. Her book deservedly won the Stella Prize this year. It is compulsive, engaging reading, notwithstanding its 500+ pages.

Nick was as funny as expected and revealed a secret about Analogue Men. We learned that his favourite Dr Who is Jon Pertwee and his favourite tech device Bluetooth. I explained how I laughed out loud repeatedly over one scene that I read on instant replay and Nick implied that my brain is like that of a goldfish. But no – it really was the skilful writing. It was wonderful to hear the laughing throughout this session and see the animated audiences in both these events.

Many thanks to the authors involved in the Festival, particularly Clare and Nick, and to the incredible BWF staff and volunteers led by Kate Eltham.