In Will Kostakis’s The Sidekicks, three young men connect over their shared loss of best friend Isaac. While they occupy radically different social strata, and seem to have nothing in common but Isaac’s absence, they discover there’s more common ground to be found than they imagined.
Today we’re sharing an exclusive reveal of The Sidekicks‘ U.S. cover—and Kostakis is sharing the story of the life-changing loss that inspired the book.
When someone dies, it carves a line through your life. Everything before it becomes the past, and everything after is never the same.
My best friend died in the summer between my sophomore and junior years.
Ben and I met in the second grade, but I didn’t like him back then because he liked cats. Four years later, we were seated together and I was apparently over my cat thing, because we became friends. I don’t remember how, but that won’t stop me romanticizing it: I made a joke, he laughed and said I was the funniest person he’d ever met.
I do remember the day he asked to read my writing—well, he snatched it out from under my hand. It was a fictionalized account of meeting my dad’s new girlfriend. I was nervous. He read right to the bottom and asked, “What happens next?”
I believe that behind every aspiring writer, there’s one enthusiastic reader who asks what happens next. Ben was that reader for me. He soon became the reader who would pass my stories around class, charging a fee (50 cents or a packet of Ovaltine). So I guess he was my first bookseller, too.
We had plans. I was going to be a writer. He was going to be an actor-slash-model-slash-genuinely-talented-pretty-person (and if all else failed, my groupie). We were going to appear on daytime talk shows together. I’d make a joke, he’d laugh, and he’d threaten to tell the audience what I was like way back when.
But he died first.
The world shook. The future I took for granted vanished, and not just imagined adventures at college or on talk shows, but the immediate future: the text banter during McDonald’s shifts, the whispered jokes in class, the exaggerated eye rolls during exams.
I didn’t only mourn him, I mourned the loss of the life I’d built around him. The grief was consuming, and in those early days, each moment was punctuated by the feeling of knowing we were drifting farther apart. I was getting older without him.
“Time is pulling us apart. With every second that passes, the space between us widens. Today, I saw him yesterday. In a few days, it will have been last week. Then, last month. And there is nothing I can do to keep time from wedging more of itself between us. It is inevitable.” –The Sidekicks
Young adult books capture that feeling of being on the edge of the rest of your life, discovering who you are and taking your first steps into adulthood. When I think about that time in my own life, it was shaped by my grief. The suddenness of Ben’s death reminded me of my mortality, and I vowed to make every ordinary moment significant, to be kinder, and when I wasn’t, to apologize faster.
The Sidekicks is a book about death, told through the lives it inspires. Ryan, Harley, and Miles are prompted to discover who they are in the wake of their mutual friend’s passing. There are echoes of my life in it, because ever since Ben died, I’ve been writing to preserve him, understand his death, and mend my broken heart.
In senior year, I wrote a chapter about his funeral. A publisher bought the book off the strength of it alone. I was breathless: I was going to be published. I was going to have the future we spoke about, only Ben wasn’t there to share it. I can imagine him saying I only got it because of him, and he’d be right. His death changed the trajectory of my life. I wrote what I knew, and I knew grief.
I couldn’t write a whole book about losing him, though. It was too raw, too scary. My first novel, Loathing Lola, instead read like a teen boy’s fever dream (rude joke, typo, fart joke). I was afraid to reflect on it deeply. I wasn’t good enough, old enough, wise enough. Years later, I visited Ben’s house. I browsed his things and found a photograph. I hadn’t seen him in so long I’d forgotten what he looked like. I knew then, I had to wrangle whatever good, old, and wise I had and write some version of our story.
I submerged myself in 2005. I consulted chat logs, scrawled notes, photographs and poems, all ordered chronologically so I could relive my history, from ignorant bliss to devastation. I then watched my younger self rebuild his life without a vital piece.
I wrote. I wrote. And when I got it wrong, I revisited my collected artifacts and lifted my teenage words verbatim.
I wanted to write about the pasts we cherish, the futures we lose, and the new ones we forge. Above all, I wanted The Sidekicks to be hopeful. Death may have carved its line, but Ben isn’t gone. He lives on in the people who met him on the edge of the rest of their lives. We absorbed his habits and recall his memories. We carry him with us.
When life is quiet, he sometimes sneaks over that carved line and asks, “What happens next?”
And I can’t wait to see.
The Sidekicks hits shelves October 17, and is available for pre-order now.