My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A must-read for any teen, or lover of YA contemporary! Reading The Sidekicks feels like that heart-stopping moment when you realise that the people around you live lives as varied, complex and conflicted as your own.
On the surface it’s a simple YA contemporary novel about 3 teenagers who are pulled together when the boy they are all best friends with dies. But there is so much more to this story. It’s about 4 boys trying to find their places in the world and taking every wrong turn along the way. There is a strong undercurrent of loss, that bone-deep aching sadness that can only come from a loss you didn’t expect and that you feel the world didn’t deserve. But the story is also punctuated with hope and friendship and rubber bands of connection pulling people back together.
The story has 4 main characters, but begins on the day one of them, Isaac, dies. Though you never read a section from his perspective Isaac is much a main character as the other 3 boys. He lives on in their memories and shapes their actions in the days and weeks following his death. He is the central figure around which all their interactions are defined. It is fascinating to read a novel where a character who is not physically present in the world of the story can have as much character development as those who have new experiences.
Multiple perspective novels often irritate me, but in this case neatly dividing the novel into thirds with one section from the perspective of each of the boys was so perfect. They all had a really unique ‘voice’ and revealed different elements of the story in their overlapping but not identical sections. Initially they appear to be defined by the titles Isaac gave them; The Swimmer, The Rebel & The Nerd, but as the story progresses it becomes clear that they are each so much more than those labels.
Exploring how each of them accept or challenge those labels was my favourite thread that ran through this book. As one character struggles with the fear that coming out as gay will merely apply another label to his existence, another struggles with how to express himself outside the expectations his label has set in the eyes of others. This is a brilliant and gentle reminder that we are all complex and changeable. It is also a reminder that we need not allow others to define us, and that there is little happiness to be found in suppressing parts of our spirit that are ‘messy’ or defy expectations.
Another strong positive about this book, is that Will Kostakis resisted the temptation to neatly pair off every single character by the end of the book, something that so many authors of YA succumb to. The relationships and friendships that evolve feel ‘right’ in the context of the story and help to move each of the characters forward.
The final few pages had me crying with bittersweet happiness, and I can’t think of a better novel to recommend to teens, and older readers will love it too. There are some heavy themes, including death, divorce, drug use, cheating, and coming out, but they are all handled thoughtfully and without talking down to readers. Without doubt one of my favourite YA contemporary reads.
You might have noticed that I really enjoyed this book, and I loved it so much I’ve picked out theme songs for each of the main characters. All are by Troye Sivan, and I hope you enjoy them:
Isaac – Happy Little Pill
The Swimmer – Bite
The Rebel – Youth
The Nerd – The Quiet