Everybody has a best friend who they share their deepest and darkest secrets with. But the one thing we never want to share is the person themselves. They’re your best friend and nobody else’s. It’s the dilemma of sharing a single best friend which Ryan, Harley and Miles face in Will Kostakis’s latest young adult contemporary novel, The Sidekicks.
The book is about the death of a best friend. But the novel focuses more on the sidekicks which were left behind. Ryan, Harley and Miles are not traditional friends, not the sort of companions you expect to read about. As Miles says in the first line of the book, “Oh, we are not actually friends.” The three of them are something more along the line of acquaintances. They are only friends because of their shared best friend, Isaac.
“The book is about the different shape of grief, and how perspective shapes the way we interact with those who are alive, and remember those we’ve lost,” Kostakis said when I interviewed him about his novel. After Isaac’s death, the novel concentrates on how grief affects each of the characters differently and how one person can shape us and influence us to be a specific person. It becomes a question of what happens when our sculptor vanishes. Who are we after that?
Traditionally, a book’s flow is broken by chapters but Kostakis has broken this convention and has written a novel which only features page breaks. “I was partially inspired by the way Terry Pratchett writes his adult Discworld books. The absence of chapters gives them a different flow, and I was looking to emulate the rhythms of life, and not shy away from life’s smaller moments that are pregnant with meaning, so I tried writing the first section without chapters,” he said when I asked him about his reasons for an uncommon structure. “The aim was to reinstate them for the next two sections, but I loved it so much, I continued that form throughout.”
Written back-to-back are three separate sections which act like individual novellas. Each novella shares the perspective of a different character. Part one is Ryan’s; section two, Harley’s; and part three belongs to Miles. The alternating angles help the reader to understand the heartbreak involved with Isaac’s passing.
Not only does the author apply an inventive structure, but he also uses different styles of writing. Throughout the novel are shaded bubbles which represent text messages. These become more frequent within the second part. By the third section, the body is written like a script to match Miles’s interest in films and academics. All of these various styles show the different personalities of the characters. For Ryan, he’s so focused on swimming that he doesn’t bother with much of a social life. Harley lives for the gatherings of friends and so therefore texts more. “Alternating perspectives just makes sense. I also wanted to stretch myself as a writer and really make sure I crafted unique voices for each of the characters. The form forced me to do that,” said Kostakis.
Based in modern-day Australia, The Sidekicks is a contemporary novel which explores the actual reality of teenagers. Despite the novel being a young adult contemporary, the book explores a range of content which is stronger than what is expected. Swearing, underage drinking and references to drug use are just some of the content explored. Ryan’s view on sexual orientation includes his uncertainty and the internal conflict of accepting himself. It’s the gay themes incorporated in the novel which have caused shockwaves in the real world community.
Some people had judged the book before they had read it. Not long before his novel came out, the author announced on his blog that he was gay. At a Catholic school, Kostakis was meant to launch, The Sidekicks. However, once the school discovered he was gay, they pulled the plug without even considering the book, already making assumptions that the content of the book would not be age appropriate for high school students. But the problem didn’t just lay in the content of the book, it also lay in who they thought he was.
I asked the author how it felt to be discriminated against due to his sexual orientation. He said, “I came out in a blog post, without talking about the content of my book, and that was used as reason to ban me from speaking about the new book (even though The First Third, a book I’d previously spoken about at that school, had gay themes). It obviously wasn’t the best feeling, but I’ve seen this subtle, ‘well meaning’ homophobia from a small number of schools for a short while. What disappoints me is, any questioning or same-sex attracted students at the school were let down, and told their experiences not only don’t have value, but are inappropriate.”
There were only a few minor parts of the novel which I found myself not enjoying. The first is a lack of direction in plot. The novel only focuses on the concerns of a teenager and the difficulty of getting through grief, and because of that, it goes around in circles as we read each character’s perspective. But beyond that, there is no direction for the plot to go. None of the characters are looking for anything else, except to overcome a death of a best friend. There was also a little bit of confusion at times, and a lack of information. For example, the cause of Isaac’s death is not explained until halfway through the book so this leaves the reader feeling a little out of the loop.
Regardless of the controversy surrounding the author and the novel, The Sidekicks still proved and continues to be successfully popular as a young adult contemporary novel. The Sidekicks left me satisfied and opened me up to new methods of writing which hasn’t been seen often. I was disappointed with the lack of direction and movement from the plotline, but that was overshadowed with the style of writing and unique structure.