Review: The First Third by Will Kostakis

Posted March 3, 2016 by BumblingBookworm in #LoveOzYA, Books / 0 Comments

**This review contains spoilers and is also quite personal – if that doesn’t interest you, look away now!**

The First Third is a heartfelt novel about the importance of family and being true to yourself. Other than Looking for Alibrandi, I can’t remember reading a book that spoke to my soul the way The First Third did, so much so that I sobbed when I finished reading it and didn’t stop for a good 5 minutes. All I can say is that I’m glad I was in bed because I reckon I would’ve scared my parents had they seen my reaction!

The First Third follows Bill, a Greek-Australian high-schooler doing his HSC and living with this family in Sydney.  His Yiayia* becomes sick, she gives Bill her bucket list and it’s his job to fix the family.  He has to find a husband for his mum, find a girlfriend for his {gay} older brother Simon so he’ll come back to Sydney from Brisbane, and somehow make his younger brother Peter like him again.   Piece of cake, huh?  Yeah right!

My favourite part of this book, without a doubt, has to be every scene with Yiayia Filyo.  My background is Italian, so I had a Nonna* rather than a Yiayia, but this story was relatable regardless.  Everything she did reminded me in some way of my Nonna – from offering people food at any time or place, to her meddling, not to mention her attitude in the lead up to her operation.  It was everything really, right down to her mannerisms.  Even her pronunciation of the word sheets! {FYI, my Nonna pronounced it ‘shits’ like Yiayia, and also pronounced both peas and peace as ‘piss’} Of course, Yiayia’s storyline hit me like a ton of bricks and had me sobbing nonstop when I reached the end of the book. I don’t cry all that easily when reading a book, so this reaction was nothing short of extreme.

Like Yiayia, my Nonna was my last grandparent.  She was the only grandparent I ever knew, and I was incredibly close to her.  Her passing was in quite similar circumstances to Yiayia’s, and while I can now say that I’m glad her suffering wasn’t prolonged, at the time I was completely devastated. When reading about Yiayia’s passing it tapped into those same emotions for me.  Like Yiayia holding on waiting for Simon to come home, it reminded me of my Nonna holding on until I got home from Melbourne. That last scene where they make moussaka took me back to all the food we didn’t know how to make after my Nonna left us, and all our trial and error! You think they’re going to be around forever, but then all of a sudden there’s no time left and no-one way to pass on the traditions. Kostakis captured the essence of this brilliantly.

This is a time in my life that I keep buried deep down, for good reason – I wouldn’t be functioning adult if I continued to dwell on the past. I’ve read books over the years that dealt with parent/grandparent death in similar circumstances, but none affected me the way this did. When reading The First Third, I felt like Kostakis had written my story. This is no mean feat, considering I’m not male, Greek, from a single parent family, or a high-schooler. That’s the beauty of the writing – it’s THAT relatable, even for an almost 28-year-old, Italo-Australian female.

Contrary to what I may have led you to believe, this book is not all about Yiayia Filyo. There are a whole host of other characters, all incredibly important in helping Bill through this transition in his life. I don’t quite know how to describe it, but Kostakis has written these characters from Bill’s perspective in such a manner that their diversities don’t seem like such a big deal. For example, you’ve got Sticks, Bill’s best mate with cerebral palsy who happens to be gay. Bill’s brother Simon is also gay, and it’s all completely understated. This book doesn’t scream “look at me, I’m diverse!” It just IS diverse, reflecting the society we all inhabit. As a multi-cultural Australian with a disability myself, it was refreshing to read about diversity in an entirely natural way, like it’s the norm {which it should be}. While it may be the norm in real life, whether or not people are willing to accept it as such, it’s sadly not the case in a lot of literature. In The First Third, Kostakis succeeds in bringing diversity to the forefront in a natural manner without descending into tokenism.

This book celebrates many things – family, friendship, diversity. Quintessentially Aussie, for a funny, heartfelt, diverse and genuine read, pick up The First Third. You probably won’t cry as much as I did (and I really hope you don’t, it was like having a hangover the next morning), but I guarantee you’ll be moved nonetheless.

Yiayia = grandmother in Greek
Nonna = grandmother in Italian

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