Published: 29th February 2016
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Format: Paperback supplied by Penguin Books Australia for Review
The Swimmer. The Rebel. The Nerd.
All Ryan, Harley and Miles had in common was Isaac. They lived different lives, had different interests and kept different secrets. But they shared the same best friend. They were sidekicks. And now that Isaac’s gone, what does that make them?
Will Kostakis, award-winning author of The First Third, perfectly depicts the pain and pleasure of this teenage world, piecing together three points of view with intricate splendour.
Going into The Sidekicks I had no idea what to expect. I’d never read any of Will Kostakis’ previous books, and while I’d seen the cover all over the net and knew that people were going crazy over the upcoming publication of this book, I didn’t have a clue what it was about. As it turns out The Sidekicks blew my mind. It’s a haunting tale about friendship and self worth that will stay with you long after you close the book for the last time.
The Sidekicks is the story of three teenage boys in Sydney (Ryan, Harley, Miles) as they navigate high school and life post the death of the only thing that tied them together: Issac/Zac.
It’s a story about grief and loss and how everybody deals with it in their own way. It’s about finding yourself: be that through the acceptance of your own sexuality or social standing and learning your own self worth as measured by your friends (past and present), but more importantly, by yourself. It’s a complex book that is raw and unforgiving. It will pull paunches and you will cry, but once you close the book for the very last time you will be content and awestruck by the brilliance that is Will Kostakis’ mind.
Told in three distinct sections, the narrative takes a close look at each of the three main characters through their own perspective of the world and their place in it. A clever move by Will Kostakis which highlights more than words ever could, just how alone these boys are in the world after the passing of ‘their person’ Isaac. For now not only do we have three characters who allegedly only ‘put up’ with each other for Isaac’s sake, but we have three very different sections of the one narrative to push home just how alienated they are from each other at a time when they need each other the most.
I honestly cannot fathom how one person can be friends with the three of us.
If I wanted to be friends with myself, I’d invest in mirrors.
The first section of the book is titled The Swimmer and is told through Ryan’s perspective from the time they are called into the principle’s office and are told about Isaac’s death. Harley and Miles are present in Ryan’s section, but the focus is on his emotional and mental state and it’s from here our story gets started. Straight away I loved Ryan. He is a strong character, with big goals (he’s going to the Olympics!) and one big vulnerable side. He’s confused and conflicted by his sexuality and his place in society and for so much of the book I just wanted to reach through the pages and give him a hug and tell him everything will be okay. That it’s okay to be who he is.
I don’t want them to look at me and see a rainbow, but is it any better that they look at me and see a lie?
The second section is titled The Rebel is told from the perspective of Harley the school’s rough and ready, ‘bad kid’ all round rebel with a heart of gold. Harley differs to the other two in that he’s a boarder at the school and not from the same social standing (Ryan is from a well off home even if he’s been brought up by his Mum; Miles is from a well to do home and is the stereotypical straight-A-student who could do no wrong with a dark secret). If I loved Ryan, I fell head over heels for Harley. Seriously, this character was so swoon worthy, but equally crushed and unable to show it after the fall out from Isaac’s death. In many ways he is the disbanded groups conscious and glue and I just love him for it. He stood up and took charge and I imagine left a lot of hearts in his wake after it.
The third and final section is told from the perspective of Miles, the school’s top Nerd. Unlike the previous sections, this part of the book breaks structure and transitions to script format. Although jarring at first, it’s quickly apparent why this is done (I can’t tell you in case of spoilers) for Miles in particular. It’s through this styling that we learn more about Miles then we have in the entire book so far. A point that rams home a lot of unforgiving truths and harsh lines, but also reflects the overall narrative structure of a three act structure of the story itself.
Time is pulling us apart. With every second that passes, the space between us widens. Today, I saw him yesterday. In a few days, it will have been last week. Then, last month. And there is nothing I can do to keep time from wedging more of itself between us. It is inevitable.
Although each section focuses primarily on each different character, the book reads effortlessly, ebbing and flowing with the characters as they navigate their way through high school. What’s more each section is given it’s own unique and distinct voice to illustrate how shattering and numbing grief can be in all it’s various forms. For not one of these characters grieve for their friend the same, just like how not one of the three boys left behind knew the same Isaac and had the same friendship with him. I really liked that aspect of the book.
‘Growing up, he’d say we spend out lives wrapping rubber bands around people. Some bands are so tight that you can feel them pulling you together. Some are loose and strech for miles, there’s so much give you hardly notice them. But you’re still connected, and sooner or later…’ she release the band and it snaps back into her wrist. ‘Ow.’ she breathes in through clenched teeth and rocks forwards. ‘That hurt more than I thought it would.’
– Jacs to Harley
This book is clever. Clever in what it says and how it says it. And even more so for what it doesn’t say.
‘I wasn’t punishing him.’ Her voice cracks. ‘ He was on the edge of the rest of his life and I wanted to sit there with him. It was …’ She can’t find the right word, so she leaves it as is. ‘It was.’ Zac’s mum talking to Harley
For those unaware, Will Kostakis’ last book was titled The First Third and it dealt with a character dealing with his homosexuality (or so I’m told, I haven’t read it yet, but I own it now!). A point that seems almost poignant when you look at this one; a follow up that holds no resemblance to the first book other than the order of its release and the fact that it’s told through three distinct voices and perspectives in a three part story structure. What’s more, the first section or the first third as one might put it, is about Ryan, a teenage boy struggling with his homosexuality and the concept of coming out. I could be reading too much into this right here, and let’s face it, I haven’t actually read The First Third yet so it’s quite possibly true. But is this a coincidence? I think not. Will Kostakis is too clever for that. This book proved that point time and time again.
You don’t know how long you have, do what makes you happy. Live. Love and be remarkable.
Honest. Heartbreaking. Soul Searching. Uplifting. Inspiring. Ground shattering. Engaging. Entertaining. That’s this book in a nutshell and I highly recommend you track down a copy for yourself now. Take it from me, you need this book in your life.
To learn more about Will Kostakis and his writing, visit the following websites:
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