Title: The First Third (2013)
Author: Will Kostakis
Publisher: Penguin Australia
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Extent: 248 pages
Release Date: July 24, 2013
Life is made up of three parts: in the first third, you’re embarrassed by your family; in the second, you make a family of your own; and in the end, you just embarrass the family you’ve made.
That’s how Billy’s grandmother explains it, anyway. She’s given him her bucket list (cue embarrassment), and now, it’s his job to glue their family back together. No pressure or anything.
Fixing his family’s not going to be easy and Billy’s not ready for change. But as he soon discovers, the first third has to end some time. And then what?
It’s a Greek tragedy waiting to happen.
The First Third is my first novel from Will Kostakis, and boy, was it pretty damn good. This is the story of Billy Tsiolkas, the middle son in a Greek family, and his quest in completing the three items on his grandmother’s bucket list: find his single mother a husband, find his older brother a girlfriend, and ‘fix’ his sullen, uncommunicative younger brother. With the aid of his best friend and a girl he meets at the hospital, Billy seeks to accomplish what his grandmother can’t while he navigates through various life problems.
The key thing I look for in a contemporary novel is for sure the characters, and The First Third has it down to an art. Billy’s narration is funny, tongue-in-cheek, and very entertaining, and through his lens, the rest of the cast comes alive. My favourites include Lucas, Billy’s supportive best friend, and Yiayia, Billy’s snarky yet loving grandmother — these two often provide both emotional scenes yet comedic value to the book.
“The best though,” I said, standing back and relaxing into it, “is when my grandmother goes shopping for bed sheets. She calls them ‘shits’. But she doesn’t just walk in and say she wants ‘shits’, no, it’s always ‘high-quality shits’, ‘comfortable shits’.”
More than that I was impressed by how natural the diverse representation is in this book. Lucas, for example, has cerebral palsy and is gay and disabled. Maria, a love interest, is half-Greek and half-Chinese. These things are part of their character, but they don’t define them as people. It feels… authentic. Effortless. Real.
The First Third speaks to the part of me that loves watching loving families in action. Family often is a huge part of someone’s life, perhaps especially a teenager’s, and it was heart-warming and refreshing to read a book that revolves around this theme. Billy has a lot of love for each and every one of his family member, but he also does questionable things for them, pokes fun at them and gets angry at them — the way family sometimes do.
“I’m not ready, Lucas. Why can’t I stay here forever?”
“It doesn’t work like that,” he said. “We grow up, stuff changes.”
My only criticism is that the ending feels somewhat unrealistic, almost too neat for a book that’s so authentically and beautifully chaotic and messy (though I concur that this might be a personal bias speaking). Beyond that I don’t really have any other complaints, because The First Third is a funny, charming and heartwarming #LoveOzYA novel about families, and you’d do well to give it a chance.