The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis

As a male I really value authentic male teenage characters in YA books.  I find those ‘hot, bad boys’ very fake, whereas the nerdy, sweary guys feel like the guy I was and a lot of the guys I knew.  I’m always on the look out for books with authentic male teenage characters and books that focus on male friendship, because it’s these books that I want to get into the hands of teenage guys.  The new book by Aussie author Will Kostakis, The Sidekicks, is one of these books, and I think every teenage guy should read it.

9780143309031The Swimmer.

The Rebel.

The Nerd.

All Ryan, Harley and Miles had in common was Isaac. They lived different lives, had different interests and kept different secrets. But they shared the same best friend. They were sidekicks. And now that Isaac’s gone, what does that make them?

I loved The Sidekicks!  I wish this book had been around when I was a teenager because it would have totally clicked with me.  Will makes you feel like you are part of the characters’ lives and that you’re one of the Sidekicks too.  Will absolutely nails what it’s like to be a teenage guy and the often awkward friendships between different guys.

The Sidekicks follows three teenage guys after the death of their friend, the one guy who was holding their group together.  They are all quite different guys who were friends with Isaac, but they don’t have anything in common with each other.  Ryan is The Swimmer, whose mum teaches at his school (which creates its own problems), and who is hiding a secret.  Harley is The Rebel, the guy who would drink with Isaac and was with him on the night that he died.  The papers imply that Isaac killed himself but Harley knows he wouldn’t do this and tries to set the story straight.  Miles is The Nerd, the intelligent one of the group who works hard, but also has a side business that he ran with Isaac selling essays.  Although Isaac is no longer around their friendship with him might be enough to help them through.

This is not just about friendship though.  It’s about three guys who are dealing with grief in different ways.  Like a lot of males they don’t really want to talk to anyone about it, especially the school guidance counsellor. Harley feels guilty because he could have stopped what happened to Isaac, and he wants to do what he can to set the story straight.  Miles holds on to Isaac through the film that he made starring Isaac.  Through his film Miles continues to have conversations with Isaac, even if it is just Isaac’s smiling face paused on the screen.

The ending of The Sidekicks is absolutely perfect and it made me want to go right back to the start and take that journey with those characters again.  I’ll be eagerly awaiting Will Kostakis’ next book and putting The Sidekicks into the hands of any teenage guys I can.

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo’s stories make life better.  They have the ability to warm you up and they could melt even the coldest heart.  They leave you smiling and full of joy.  You know you’re always going to make new friends that you’ll carry around with you, even when you’ve finished their story.  Kate DiCamillo’s latest book, Raymie Nightingale, is another outstanding book that promises all of these things.

1457656550071Raymie Clarke has come to realise that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father – who has run away with a dental hygienist – will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton, but she has to compete with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante with her show-business background and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship – and challenge them to come to each other’s rescue in unexpected ways.

Raymie Nightingale is an up-lifting, soul-expanding story.  It fills you up with happiness. It’s a story of an unexpected, life-changing friendship, packed with unforgettable characters.  Kate DiCamillo’s writing is beautiful.  I wanted to really take my time with Raymie Nightingale so that I could savour it.

The story follows three very different girls, who would normally not have anything to do with each other – Raymie, Beverly and Louisiana.  They meet at baton-twirling lessons at Ida Nee’s house.  Raymie’s father has run off with a much younger dental hygienist. She wants to enter the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition in the hope of getting her father’s attention and bringing him home.  Beverly Tapinski is tough, not afraid of anything and she wants to sabotage the competition.  Louisiana Elefante is flaky and  naive.  Her circus parents are dead, so her strange grandmother is taking care of her.  Each of them has found the others at just the right time.  They all need a friend who will be there for them and have their back.

The thing I love most about Raymie Nightingale is the characters.  Raymie, Beverly and Louisiana are each so different but they make the perfect team.  Raymie is concerned about her soul.  Things like the thought of her father leaving her and her mother make her soul shrink, but little things that her friends so for her make her soul expand.

‘Raymie felt something expanding inside her.  It felt like a gigantic tent billowing out.  This, Raymie knew, was her soul.’

Louisiana is ‘filled up with feathers and regrets. And fears.’ She says the strangest things sometimes but she made me laugh too.  Beverly isn’t afraid of anything, whether that is picking the lock at the Very Friendly Animal Centre or stealing Ida Nee’s precious baton.  I also love the minor characters too, like Mrs Sylvester, her father’s receptionist.  No matter when or how often Raymie calls her she always has time to listen.  She always seems to know what Raymie needs, even if it’s just to tell her that everything is going to be alright.  We only see Mrs Borkowski and Mr Staphopoulos briefly but these two people have a big impact on Raymie’s life.

Fans of Kate DiCamillo will not want to miss this book.  If you haven’t read any of her books before read Raymie Nightingale and fall in love with the wonder of Kate DiCamillo.


Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

‘In any case, Crenshaw had excellent timing.  He came into my life just when I needed him to.  It was a good time to have a friend, even if he was imaginary.’

There have been a few books published recently about imaginary friends.  I have lapped them all up.  I don’t remember having an imaginary friend as a kid but reading these books make me wish I had.  The book that most makes me wish for an imaginary friend Katherine Applegate’s latest book, Crenshaw.  I’m sure you’ll wish you had a friend like Crenshaw once you’ve read this wonderful book too.

Crenshaw_UK.inddJackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?


Crenshaw, like Katherine Applegate’s previous book The One and Only Ivan, is one of those books that I just want to carry around everywhere and give to everyone.  It is heart-warming story about family and friendships, that will make you want to keep hugging the main character and wanting to hang out with Crenshaw.  Katherine Applegate tugs at your heart-strings and brings a little wonder into your world.

Jackson is not an imaginary friend kind of guy.  He prefers facts and figures.  He doesn’t like stories because they ‘are lies, when you get right down to it.  And I don’t like being lied to.’  His parents have fallen on hard times and they keep telling Jackson and his sister, Robin, that everything is going to be alright.  Deep down Jackson knows that they aren’t going to be alright.  His family had to live in their mini-van for weeks on end when he was younger and he doesn’t want to do that again.  Just when he needs a friend the most, Crenshaw, Jackson’s large, outspoken, imaginary friend shows up to help him to face the truth.

There is so much wisdom in Katherine Applegate’s books.  They’re like guides to how to live your life.  She teaches you about kindness and honesty, and that it’s OK to be yourself.  I always find myself stopping reading to write down little bits of wisdom from her stories.

I love Crenshaw’s voice. He is very opinionated, especially about Jackson’s dog, Aretha, but he has some great lines.  This is one of my favourites,

‘Imaginary friends are like books.  We’re created, we’re enjoyed, we’re dog-eared and creased, and then we’re tucked away until we’re needed again.’

Crenshaw is one of those few books that I’ve read multiple times.  It is a special book and I know that I’ll come back to it again to visit Jackson and Crenshaw.  Adopt Crenshaw yourself and make a new best imaginary friend.