Firstly, a huge thank you to Tinder Press and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Since the death of Stan’s father, his mother buries herself in work and barely mentions her late husband. Struggling to fit into his new school which he earned a scholarship for, he regularly cycles around his local common to clear his head. On one of these cycles his day goes from bad to worse when his bike breaks and he careens to the ground, or so he thought until fearless and talkative Charlie helps him back up. Confident Charlie could not be more different from socially awkward Stan, but despite this they begin to form an unlikely friendship. But, are they too different? Are the worlds they live in too far apart for their friendship to survive as teenagers and adults?
The entire novel centres around the lives of Stan and Charlie who I completely adored and felt fiercely protective of. Common Ground opens up with 13-year-old Stan who is cycling around after school. Straight away Ishiguro demonstrates her excellent ability of revealing aspects about the characters without explicitly telling the reader. Something that occurs throughout the novel but is particularly effective in the opening chapters. I loved socially awkward teenage Stan and really felt for him from the off being an outsider in a private school. His initial suspicion of Charlie, who seemed to have no problem at all with just talking to strangers and helping someone without a second thought, just reinforces how Stan has been treated by people up until this point. In the beginning 16-year-old Charlie seems like the complete opposite of Stan and much wiser and much more knowledgeable above his years, despite the fact he doesn’t go to school.
I don’t want to give too much away in regards to Charlie’s background as whilst it isn’t a major spoiler, going in not knowing much about either boy made certain reveals and scenes hit me much harder. Although, even knowing what I do now I know that reading this novel again would mean I would pick up on so much more from the start which excites me. I really loved the way that Stan would look up to Charlie, and how much Charlie truly impacted him which we see more of in the second half of the novel. Seeing both boys all grown up (well, 22 and 25 respectively) was such a stark contrast to the characters we are initially introduced to. The fundamental foundations of both Stan and Charlie are still there but they have grown into men. Charlie has gone from being infectiously curious and questioning everyone (especially authority and those who blindly follow), to trying to numb himself from the world seemingly stuck in a sort of limbo. Whereas Stan is much more confident and seems to have inherited Charlie’s political curiosity and a hunger for defeating societal injustice. For me, it was incredibly heartwarming whenever Stan would say something and then follow it up with “you taught me that” when speaking to Charlie.
Not only is this novel a beautiful depiction of an unlikely friendship of two boys, turned young men, learning who they are and their places in the world there is a political narrative that runs alongside, slowly building and building until the climax of the novel. Ishiguro has cleverly depicted the different forms of racism that is felt all over the UK from Stan not understanding certain words when he was a teenager, to the violence and secret meetings of grown adults looking to force their country into the shape they want it to be. In addition to the boys growing and changing over time, so does the injustice and racism Charlie faces in this book. Through these depictions from when they were teenagers to when they are older, also illustrates the impact of parental prejudices on children.
Overall, this novel was a touching and beautiful read with characters that I’m still thinking about long after I finished the book. Ishiguro’s descriptions of the places and the characters are completely absorbing and they feel so real that you are almost standing alongside Charlie and Stan in the novel. This delightful debut novel is a must read! I already have a copy of Escape Routes sitting on my shelf and I can’t wait to devour it like I did with Common Ground.