The Sidekicks, Will Kostakis (2016)
Note: We don’t give star-ratings. We review in order to encourage the development of AusQueerYA, by deconstructing the good and the bad bits, to learn and grow as writers.
‘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 his sidekicks. And now that Isaac’s gone, what does that make them?’
This review is going to take a slightly different turn than our regular book reviews. Like Nevo Zisin’s non-review (which you can read here), The Sidekicks is valuable as a cultural resource for more than just its story-telling. This is not to say any other books we have reviewed are only worth a read and nothing more: they are all valuable, but I do not know enough of Alison Evans or Marlee Jane Ward etc to comment on the deeper relationship between the writer and their work.
Will Kostakis is arguably the most successful Australian Queer YA writer at present, not in terms of monetary success (I don’t have the figures on that), but in the value he adds to our genre and to our community. Maybe ‘successful’ is the wrong word. Prominent, perhaps. If you’ve been to any writing festival in the last year, Will was probably there. He is downright hilarious, so I think that helps his cause, but he is also someone who has thrown himself face first into the spotlight and for this he deserves some recognition.
The political debate we are having around same-sex marriage is not a new one. It is particularly heightened at the moment, but this has been going on a long time, as anyone in the Queer community is aware. In February 2016, Will posted a blog on his website call Reintroducing myself, where he came out professionally for the first time. Following this, there was a backlash from a school concerning the ‘suitability’ of discussing his latest book The Sidekicks, because of its Queer content. Will relies largely on doing school talks for his income, so this was no small backlash. This was major. Was he to hide who he was, damage control and pretend it never happened? Or stick to his guns and potentially sabotage his career?
The Sidekicks is told in three parts, from three different characters perspectives. It deals primarily with grief, after the death of the three character’s mutual friend. One of the characters, Ryan, is gay and comes out during the novel. The story line around this coming out is positive, realistic and also heartbreaking in a small way, but it is not the central feature of the novel. From a purely literary perspective, Kostakis has written an extremely good Queer character. From a social perspective, Kostakis kicked some serious butt with this.
Will stuck with his guns and by speaking out about the discrimination he was suddenly faced with now that he was ‘out’, he went from successful YA author, to kick-ass Queer champion, at least in my books. He pushed through the bullshit so that writers following in his footsteps don’t have to push so hard. I want you all the remember this next bit though, so that you can carry that with you into your own careers, into your student’s lives, into your hearts and mind whenever you start to question why Own Voices is so important: Will pushed so hard it nearly broke him.
The next thing Will published after The Sidekicks was ‘I Can See The Ending’ in the LoveOzYA Anthology ‘Begin, End, Begin’. This was not a Queer story. It was a damn good story, but it was a boy-meets-girl tale. At the All Day YA event at this years Sydney Writer’s Festival, Get YA Words Out asked Will why he didn’t make his characters Queer. His answer floored me, if I’m honest: He simply didn’t have it in him for that kind of emotional labour. The Sidekicks had drained his tanks entirely. Not only is The Sidekicks own voices for Queer themes, but the death of a high school friend is something that happened to Will too. He put himself so deeply into these pages and then was told to censor that or be out of a job. To censor himself. When I heard this, I completely understood the desire to write something a bit more fun for the LoveOzYA Anthology.
This is why you should to read The Sidekicks. This is why you should support Australian Queer YA authors, especially own voices authors. These are literally our stories. Our dreams, heartbreaks, loves, regrets, sorrows, highs and lows are on every page. These are the words that will change the way our society views the Queer community, not because it’s our job to make people treat us like human beings, but because Queer teens need to see themselves in books. They need to know that if they someone tries to tear them down, the whole lot of us are there to pick them back up.
Will Kostakis and all the own voices Queer YA authors we review here are not just good story tellers deserving of praise, though they definitely are. They are putting themselves out there battling censorship from schools, libraries, literary critics, crap newspapers and disgruntled parents to try and reach those teenagers who need to know they are not alone.
Support these authors. Read their books. Buy their books. Go see them at the festivals. And be brave enough to tell your story.
One last thing, I apologise repeatedly to you all if Will reads this, gets a super self-confidence boost and floods his Instagram with more pics of him in Speedos as a result.