Review Blog

Jul 26 2013

The first third by Will Kostakis

cover image

Penguin, 2013. ISBN 9780143568179.
Billy Tsiolkas loves his Yiayia (Grandmother) openly, without embarrassment and he endures her ethnic idiosyncrasies with good humour and respect. In his final year at school, with two estranged brothers and a mother who is saddened by her single status, Billy becomes fearful when Yiayia is hospitalised by complications from a kidney stone. The elderly woman clearly has a major influence in family affairs and Billy dares not decline when she submits to him a 'bucket list' or series of wishes to be granted before she dies.
Accompanied by an amusing best friend 'Sticks' who has cerebral palsy, Billy sets forth to try to bring about three seemingly impossible feats which Yiayia considers will fix his family. This story is all about relationships including friendships, familial interactions and romantic involvement. Sticks inveigles his way into Billy's negotiation of all three and shows a curious mix of compassion and kindness with a merciless attitude to dropping Billy in embarrassing situations.
This is a realistic portrayal of adolescent life and I liked the fact that everyday situations encountered commonly in families were presented in an entertaining manner and were completely adequate in framing the narrative.
The novel still has quirks however. Items on the bucket list include 'fixing' Peter, the aggressive, truculent younger brother with whom Billy no longer has any communication beyond grunts, and finding a girlfriend for the eldest brother Simon who lives interstate. The rift with Peter troubles Billy greatly and he agonises over its causes as he seeks to reconcile differences and restore the relationship, yet the reader never discovers why and how this has come about. Similarly, the amusing twist in finding Simon a girlfriend, given that he is gay (known by the family but an alien concept to Yiayia) becomes secondary in Billy's difficulty to fulfil this promise when he discovers a facade which is never explored in any depth.
The characters represented in this novel are familiar in an Australian context and the reader is caught up in Billy's quest to ease their pain and strengthen the bonds within his own family as its members negotiate the ups and downs of contemporary life.
Rob Welsh

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