Something fabulous and terrifying happens while you’re reading We Could Be Something, the new book from young adult fiction author Will Kostakis: one moment you’re reading a book, then you turn a page and find yourself crying. This has always been Kostakis’s gift: the ability to drag you – almost before you realise – into the emotional heart of the story, so you recognise each character’s truth in your own life. As gifts go, it’s not a bad one for an author to have.
Kostakis has been building up to this book – his earlier work in The First Third, and particularly The Sidekicks, offered readers ringside seats as he honed his writing skills. After an ambitious swerve into fantasy with the Monuments duology, with We Could Be Something he’s returned to the autofiction he excels at.
Harvey is 17, and when his dads split up, he’s counterintuitively delighted, ready to dump school and run full tilt into the larger world of Sydney and Grindr – until he hits the wall of his extended Greek family and their emotional demands, which force him to examine himself. Meanwhile, 17-year-old Sotiris, who has peaked early by signing and releasing his first novel, is blindsided by writer’s block and publishing disillusionment, which throws his growing attraction to handsome young bookseller Jem into chaos.
Both boys’ stories collide and intersect in a family-owned Greek cafe in Sydney’s Darlinghurst. Kostakis weaves the characters and themes of intergenerational connection and familial and romantic love together in moving, clever and hilarious ways – even if you see the twists coming, you’re unable to resist their emotional power. It’s excellent, deeply human writing.
Every author, in every genre, drip-feeds something of themselves into the creation of a novel. In autofiction the influences are clear. The best practitioners of the form in this country, and Kostakis is one of the best, take powerful personal moments and meld them into fictional characters with admirable skill. Thus we feel less like we’re watching the author expose their arse in public – “fucking cringe”, as Kostakis’s character Harvey would say – and more like we’re riding along with real people who experience the same joys and make the same bittersweet mistakes we all do, as they recount the everyday weirdness and pathos of growing up.
With We Could Be Something, far from peaking too early, Kostakis is solidly staking his claim. It’s a small book with a big beating heart.
Allen & Unwin, 416pp, $19.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 27, 2023 as "We Could Be Something".
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