The First Third by Will Kostakis
This story, set in Sydney, is narrated by 17 year old Bill Tsiolkas who tells of his Greek family, including his brothers Simon and Peter, his divorced mother and his grandmother, Yaiyai Filyo. Hospitalised, the latter gives Bill a three task list, asking Bill to complete them on her behalf which he attempts to do with the help of his best friend Lucas (aka Sticks) who has cerebral palsy and is gay and who is always encouraging and supportive. The tasks involve finding Bill’s mother a new husband, finding a girlfriend for his (gay) older brother, and making amends with Peter.
The book starts slowly – there are a few hospital scenes, Bill’s first kiss with an older woman (Maria), a trip to Melbourne where Bill locates his father’s home, and then returns, and a one-night stint as a stand-up comic in a competition which Bill wins. ‘My future full-filled itself,’ he says.
There is considerable humour in the book, some of which I found sexist (women’s body images), and some which I enjoyed, such as Bill’s description of his grand-mother: ‘It was a little harder to get Yaiyia seated. She had eight decades of Greek diet to contend with.’ An object of much of the humour in the book, Yaiyai is keen to impart vital knowledge to Bill, telling him that Australian girls are like lasagne – store-bought and bland -- and Greek girls are fresh and special, like moussaka. Bill meets and is romantically drawn to Hayley who advises him on how to promote his mother to potential partners online.
Most of the characters in The First Third are well-rounded and Bill is sensitive to those around him though at times he is, like most teenagers, introspective. Most engaging is his relationship with Stick and his love for his grand-mother. The scenes where he is sexting his mother’s prospective partners are amusing – and cringe-worthy, but spying on his brother’s computer was problematic for this reader.
Kostakis writes dialogue well and manages to draw a clear picture of what it is like being male, heterosexual and a teenager. It was interesting to see how his protagonist struggles with connecting closely with his brothers and difficult to understand exactly why Peter seems to be off-side with him. The ending of the book is perhaps too neatly resolved, everything being ‘happily ever after.’
Overall, the book seemed to be somewhat autobiographical but it is a satisfying read that should appeal to most young adults, particularly those who are Greek and male.
CKT Book Reviewer