Harvey is woken in the middle of the night by his Ba (father), who announces that he and Harvey’s other dad are splitting up. Seeing Ba’s offer of a new life in Sydney as a chance to win his friendship group pool on who drops out of school first, Harvey joins him, leaving behind a monotone life with no real regret. In Darlinghurst, he is dragged into the lies Ba tells his Yiayia (grandmother) to save dignity and protect his Proyiayia (great-grandmother), who is suffering declining mental and physical health.
Working in Yiayia’s café, Harvey befriends co-worker Isabella – a Sydney native who shows him all the city has to offer. But as Ba’s lies unravel and Proyiayia faces death, the tensions underneath the shiny surface of this new life become unavoidable.
Meanwhile, in the same suburb, Sotiris – a young author who thought he could never fail – is thrown for a loop as his perfect life plan falls apart. For one, he’s trying to reason away his homosexual feelings. He also finds that his first published book, with thousands of copies in print, has a misspelt word. Now that mistake is being thrown in his face by his school rival, and his publisher is telling him there will be no sequel to his book as it has failed to sell.
As his publisher anglicises his name, hides his age and takes away any real mark Sotiris left in his book, we see him slowly torn away from both his sense of self and from the dream life he has envisioned from such a young age. The only bright spot is a secret relationship he begins with a kind young man named Jem.
This entire book is a rollercoaster ride of emotions – from uplifting moments to heartbreaking ones. Its overarching theme, which flows across the two strands of the story, is the importance of honesty.
In each narrative, the truth could have made a significant difference if it had been spoken in the beginning. This is particularly underlined in Harvey’s narrative, as he embarks on a journey to help his father, but uncovers bitter truths that only serve to further drive a wedge between them. Later on, Harvey’s dad attempts to use Proyiayia’s life story for his own greed and desperation, but ends up unveiling more uncomfortable truths that extinguish all hope for reconciliations.
Alongside the theme of truth, Kostakis also weighs up the sometimes-competing forces of love and ambition. Sotiris’s final chapter (and the finale of the book) is in many ways flat, hard to hear and a sullen view, but it has a melancholy happiness as well. He got to be loved, and found a happiness he got to cherish for years – don’t we all wish for love, happiness, a feeling of belonging and closeness with those we love?
Sotiris’s only real mistake is striving too hard and compromising too much for dreams that may never be fulfilled. Kostakis seems to be warning us that while dreams might be all-consuming, sometimes even they need to be compromised for us to find the beautiful moments that will uplift us to happiness. The author seems to be asking us and himself whether happiness and chasing your dreams are impossible to harmonise.
Knowing there’s truths from the author’s life in this story helps readers to feel settled in the waves of emotions we ride. In the end, We Could Be Something sticks with you and makes you feel the need to re-evaluate your own life – to reminisce on your past loves and the opportunities you missed, and to reflect on the reality that even when working your hardest, you won’t always win.
It’s a somewhat dark feeling to come away with, but also a refreshing change from the constricted “and they all lived happily ever after” conclusion.
Will Kostakis bases this memorable book on his own life, and you can tell he left a piece of his heart in each page.
We Could Be Something, by Will Kostakis, is published by Allen & Unwin.
Leesha Cole is a Ngarrindjeri writer and actress. She is one of the first recipients of the Arts SA and InReview First Nations Arts Writing Mentorship. Leesha is working with Meriam (Magaram), Wuthathi and Bindal Juru journalist and business woman Nancia Guivarra to write a series of articles for publication in InReview.
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