Cover Image: Common Ground

Common Ground

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

This book it filled with a lot of heart, I really enjoyed reading this.
I think we could all do with seeing the world a little differently and make an attempt to learn about other lives though different perspectives.
Was this review helpful?
I thought this book was well written. Stan is 13 and bullied at school, when he meets Charlie who is older by three years by chance on the local common a friendship begins that weaves throughout the novel. Brought up in different worlds, the characters forge a bond which helps Stan when they're younger and then Charlie years later when they bump into each other at a student party. I liked both of the main characters and could picture the settings and situations well.
Was this review helpful?
Having much enjoyed Naomi Ishiguro's debut collection of short stories, I was was greatly looking forward to her first full-length novel. In 'Common Ground' she brings us a tale of an unlikely friendship between 13-year old Stan and 16-year old Charlie, literally meeting on the local common. Stan lives with his mother, his dad having died the year before, and he struggles to fit in and is the victim of bullying at school; Charlie is a free spirit, a Traveller and - as such - also an outsider. The first part of the book is set in 2003, and we then jump forward in part two to 2012, where the two meet up again by accident, only to find this time that their situations have been reversed. Stan is now a confident postgrad student, while Charlie struggles to keep down a job and is in a sticky marriage. Can the two friends find a way to navigate the future?

So, in theory, it looked like a good book to delve into: lots of issues of friendship, being an outsider, race in modern-day Britain, and so on.... But, I just felt a disconnect from the beginning. Part One felt and read at times like a YA novel, and it didn't improve much in Part Two, although some of the scenes would be a bit too heavy for YAs. Unfortunately, I just didn't believe in the likelihood of the friendship in the first place - it just seemed artificial, a 16yo befriending a 13yo in the way it works out. And as the book went on the 'message' was, well, not so subtle. What I found worked in the short story collection was totally absent here; there were no subtle metaphors, or quiet allusions to meaning. Here, you get The Message very bluntly spelt out to you. This is what the moral is. And now I'm going to tell you again. And again. And, sadly, it became quite tiresome. There surely must be space for the reader to make the connections, space where what is unsaid is more powerful than what beats you over the head, where a scene in part 2 that mirrors something that happened in part 1 is not explicitly pointed out to us ('like déja vu or something' we are told).

The idea is worthy, and at times there are flashes of the lyrical potential that Ishiguro displayed in 'Escape Routes', but it was just way too obvious in hammering home the 'moral of the story'. I look forward to seeing what Naomi Ishiguro comes up with next, but I'm afraid this was just a slightly disappointing 3 stars.

(With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title.)
Was this review helpful?
Stan and Charlie meet on a small town Common. Thirteen year old Stan is sitting on the Common, frustrated, lonely and navigating grief and a new school when Charlie offers him help fixing his bike. This small gesture gives Stan hope and a chance at friendship. Stan is judged in his new school for being new and bookish, and this makes him an easy target. Charlie knows what it is like to be an outsider too - within and outside his own community. Charlie is having none of this and shows Stan how to believe in and stand up for himself.

They lose touch when Charlie and his family move on. They bump into each other 10 years later and Stan has really grown into himself and is thrilled to see Charlie. Now it is his turn to support Charlie in finding his way again.

I enjoyed the poignant moments in this story. We are given insight into the internal struggles of the main characters and how they support each other to manage life's ups and downs.
Was this review helpful?
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.

CW: Racism

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.
Was this review helpful?
Surrey, 2003: Thirteen-year-old Stan goes to Goshawk Common to escape the expectations of those around him. But when his bike breaks, and Charlie stops to help him fix it, it is the beginning of a friendship that will have a lasting impact on both boys. Charlie is sixteen, more confident and experienced—he encourages Stan to stand up for himself against the bullies at school and opens Stan’s eyes to the prejudice against his Traveller community.

London, 2012: Stan and Charlie reconnect at a party, but the power has shifted: Stan is completing his masters’ degree, has a job at a newspaper and a settled life, while Charlie has a badly-paid job, a struggling marriage and is trapped between the expectations of his boss, his landlord and his family. Will Stan stand up for his old friend against racial tensions and anti-Traveller rhetoric?

I don’t know much about the Traveller community and they are not very well represented in contemporary fiction, so it was great to learn a bit more about this group. I particularly loved the overarching theme of common ground. “How can you say a man’s born free when the whole of the world he’s born into is already owned by someone else?” Charlie entreats his friend. “…what does that mean, Stan, when there’s nowhere he can go, nowhere he can just simply exist that isn’t governed already, that isn’t trying to shut him out, move him on, or tell him what he should and shouldn’t think…” This is something we should all be concerned about, whether it’s the fight for the right of access to footpaths rivers and beaches through private land, the eroding of our parks and natural spaces to private construction, or the restriction of freedom of movement as a result of Brexit. 

'Common Ground' is a poignant coming-of-age story and a heartfelt call for action against intolerance and bigotry.
Was this review helpful?
Common Ground explores social justice issues faced by the Traveller community, and the discrimination faced on a day to day basis. I’m not going to try and comment on the issues raised in this book, as I am not in any position to do so and don’t know how/what to say in the face of this. The way that Naomi Ishiguro explores the issues in such a subtle way highlights the injustice faced by minority communities in the world today. The book isn’t all pizzazz and intense clashes - everything is realistic and mirrors day to day life and this adds to the shock factor. The author successfully highlights that these are social justice issues faced daily in real life, not some fictional tale dramaticised for the shock factor. 

I normally go for more plot-driven books - I find myself more easily hooked/gripped by an intense read that has me needing to know what happens asap, and this book wasn’t that. However, I wouldn’t change anything about this book simply because if it was dramaticised it wouldn’t have the same impact. The aim was to highlight the injustice faced by minorities in everyday life in the world today, this was well achieved by maintaining a quiet prose style rather than exploring more tense dramatic writing that could suggest that ‘things aren’t that bad - they were just dramaticised for the book’.

I can’t fault this book and the only reason I am going for a 4-star review is because of my own personal preference for faster-paced books. This book is poignant, emotional and reflective, and I would recommend it for sure.
Was this review helpful?
A brilliant book about life in Britain today. The sort of debut that must, and surely will, be on awards' lists later this year. The arrival of a major talent.
Was this review helpful?
13 year old nerdy, NHS glasses wearing, Stan does not fit in at school and is an easy target for bullies. At home, it's just Stan and his Mum, who is struggling after the death of Stan's father a year earlier. When Stan meets older, cooler Charlie one day after school on the Common they quickly bond and a friendship develops. Initially set in 2003 when the boys first meet, the story then time hops to 2012 where their paths cross for a second time. 

The book explores racism and discrimination faced by Roma travelling communities within the UK and Ireland - a minority that is often overlooked. Although I know little of the Travelling community, I felt Charlie's and story was written with sensitivity and compassion. 

I loved this book, so much. It illustrated how things you say and ways you treat friends, that may not mean a great deal to you at the time, can literally be life-changing for the other person. Such a great tale of the positive impact of enduring friendship and love.
Was this review helpful?
Common Ground: the setting that unwinds the tale of the unlikely friendship between the weedy Stan Gower and the traveller, Charlie Wells. Charlie teaches Stan how to stand up for himself. When the two of them reunite in London years later, Stan has the chance to return the favour - but is it that simple? Content warnings include miscarriage, violence, discrimination, near death experiences and racial abuse. 
Nowadays, it is very easy to see discrimination as a hard-to-read story: a shocking article that will snap the everyday world into being aware of the nasty side of humanity for around 3 working days. This part of society is explored in Stan’s character, as he completes a journalism degree and tries to help Charlie. Charlie is an example of the everyday discrimination of minorities and anything “outside the norm” that is brushed under the rug by people with the privilege of apathy. 
This book, although calm, quiet and reflective on the surface, is explosive when it comes to its poignancy. It depicts a story of a flawed yet special friendship, an exploration of two different lifestyles and society’s attitude towards them, and how Stan and Charlie face the world that appears to be against them for different reasons. I cannot fault the writing style, the characters or the way the plot unfolds, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it.
Was this review helpful?
Common Ground by Naoimi Ishiguro 

I requested this book after seeing very favourable reviews online and also, if I’m honest, because I was interested to see what the daughter of Kazuo Ishiguro had to offer to world of literature.  And I think the answer to that question is ‘a great deal.’ Naoimi is without doubt a very talented writer and I think the theme of this book (finding common ground) was excellent. However, for me, this book had a very YA feel to it and this is not a genre I would normally choose to read. Unfortunately I never felt like I really got to know either of the two main characters and I found the second half of the book to be a bit of a chore. Having said all of that I would be interested to read something else by this author as I feel there is better to come. 

Thanks Headline & to Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.
Was this review helpful?
To be completely honest I mostly picked this book because I was intrigued by the fact it was written by Kazuo Ishiguro's daughter, Naomi Ishiguro. It's a terrible reason to pick a book, but I am so glad I did - I ended up really enjoying it. I found the start of the book a bit slow and it took me a while to get interested, but I did once Charlie is introduced as he meets 13 year old Stan, alone with a bike he doesn't know how to fix, on the common. Charlie is 16 and is part of the Travellers community, and they become friends - Charlie acting like a big brother to Stan who lives a lonely life, bullied at school, and not having much of a relationship with his mother, having lost his father a year prior. The first part of the book is about this friendship; and the second and third parts of the novel take place 9 years later. 
Charlie is the character that makes the book in my opinion - I didn't care much for Stanley,neither as a child nor a grown up, but he was a useful tool to hook readers not familiar with the Travellers community, I suppose - which is also my case. I found that the way the Travellers lives is described was kind, even joyful in a way, despite depicting clearly the discrimination they are victims of - Stanley's mum forbidding Charlie to stay in touch with him, Charlie finding out he was being paid less than his colleagues, the group having to move regularly despite enjoying where they are because the council keeps evicting them... I enjoyed the writing, and I enjoyed its warm and hopeful tone. Definitely recommend.
Was this review helpful?
Naomi Ishiguro’s debut novel, Common Ground, starts in a very familiar place. It’s 2003, but it might as well be 1950; thirteen-year-old Stan is the school outcast, teased for his NHS glasses and old clothes, and struggling after his father’s death. When he meets cool sixteen-year-old Charlie, who doesn’t go to school but works at the local gym instead, an unlikely friendship results. Stan – who, speaking as someone who was also a pretty unworldly teenager in 2003, seems almost impossibly naive – is fascinated by Charlie’s Traveller* family and shocked at the abuse they receive. Almost ten years later, in 2012, Stan and Charlie meet again at a party in London. Both are now very different people, and struggle to connect across class, education and racial divides. Charlie’s life has been marked by the social exclusion and discrimination he’s experienced, while Stan seems to have lightly shrugged off his earlier suffering. Will their previous closeness be enough to bring them together?

Common Ground has very worthy intentions, and draws attention to a form of racism that is often forgotten, despite recent headlines about discrimination against Traveller communities in both Britain and Ireland. However, as a novel, I found it plodding and simplistic, and much too long. I was a little puzzled about what it was trying to do. A number of reviews describe it as ‘feelgood’ or ‘heartwarming’, but I found it rightly, relentlessly grim. If you’re looking for something that cheerfully explores community in the vein of Libby Page’s The Lido or Joanna Cannon’s Three Things About Elsie, this is not the book for you. However, by itself, that isn’t a problem – there’s no reason why a book that explores this kind of entrenched racism should be uplifting. The trouble is that Common Ground doesn’t bring much more to the table. The prose is competent, but both Charlie and Stan remain within the boundaries of their respective archetypes. When they meet again in London in 2012, Charlie slips straight into the salt-of-the-earth working-class observer role, mocking middle-class students’ pretentious views on art (why is this always the way protagonists demonstrate emotional authenticity?) while Stan can’t speak without lapsing into journalistic jargon about austerity politics. People are more complicated than this.

I was sorry not to like Common Ground more, because I really admire its focus on the experiences of Traveller communities. I would actually be keen to try Ishiguro’s collection of short stories, Escape Routes, to see how her writing works in a very different form.
Was this review helpful?

Common Ground by Naomi Ishiguro

TW// racism, bigotry, mental illness 

“Never just rely on what people tell you. You’ve got to go out and investigate. Ask questions. Go to the library. Read books.”

Stan has recently started at a new school where he is bullied by the wealthier kids in his year. He doesn’t have any friends and avoids going home because of a strained relationship with his mum. One day he meets Charlie at the local common, and these two polar opposite boys strike an instant bond. A few years later the pair go their separate ways and leave the small village where they met, only to reunite a decade later at a party in london. 

This was such a powerful book about what it is like to be an outsider and the beauty of friendship in making you feel less alone. Charlie is part of the traveller community and through their relationship Stan’s eyes are opened to the blatant discrimination that this community faces.

This is the first book I’ve ever read that discusses bigotry perpetuated towards the traveller community and I must say, the author did this with such compassion and empathy. I think it’s extremely important that this community isn’t forgotten about as we strive to be a more inclusive society! 

Such a gorgeous coming of age story that tackles prejudice that is ingrained in modern society. 

Was this review helpful?
Common Ground is a sensitive and emotional read, dealing with the friendship between two boys as they grown into men.  There were strong themes of loyalty and freedom, with interesting explorations of what these two concepts mean within different communities in the UK. I found Charlie's struggles against discrimination to be particularly compelling and loved his changing relationship with himself and with Stan.

A recommended read for fans of character-driven narrative.

Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for providing a review copy in exchange for honest feedback.
Was this review helpful?
Stan is 13 and struggling at a new school when he meets Charlie. Complete opposites, they click and become good friends despite their differences. Stan is struggling with bullies whereas Charlie knows exactly how to stand up for himself and helps to show Stan how to gain confidence. Both know what it means to be an outsider, and it’s that common ground that pulls them towards each other even more.

10 years later and the book changes to be written from Charlie’s perspective. Both the boys have moved on from Newford and found their own ways in life as young adults. The tone of the book really changes at this point and there is a feeling of despair as the reality of the differences in their situations unfolds. There are no longer any high school bullies, but full grown adults and the systemic biases they carry. The focus turns to discrimination, the sense of belonging, and of what home really means.

Naomi Ishiguro brings characters to life that I’ve not really come across in other books. Charlie’s background is something that many authors would shy away from and I found it to be refreshing to have a view into his lifestyle without judgement. She brings empathy to his situation, an understanding of what family means to him, and shows the impossible situation he is in when dealing with discrimination. Charlie often feels conflict between how he was raised and what society wants from him, and Noami helps the reader to experience this right alongside him. This is a powerful coming of age story of friendship, family and loyalty in the face of awful discrimination.
Was this review helpful?
This is a beautifully written evocation of childhood and friendship and the key moments and experiences that define a life. Ideal, perhaps for readers who enjoy intricate stories that plot every moment of a life. Unfortunately, that is not me. Ishiguro's writing is tender and delicately observed but I got a little too lost in the detail. Not for me, but will find plenty of readers who fall in love with it for precisely those characteristics, I'm sure.
Was this review helpful?
Whilst many readers may stumble on this book when looking for the next offering by the author's famous father (as I did), her style is different from his and her work should be judged in her own right.  The elder Ishiguro's books tend to have a vagueness and delicacy about them - which can be seen as a positive or negative quality depending on your reading preferences - which is not the case here.  

'Common Ground' is a story primarily about friendship, and about discrimination.  It features Traveller characters and gives some insight into the Traveller community - a community that I've read very little about, despite being an interesting culture and with lots of scope for good stories given the difficulties they face in UK society.  It's a fascinating topic and I'm surprised, on reflection, that there aren't more books about it.  There are plenty of stories about other cultures facing a difficulties when living in the UK, and yet Tavellers face just as many issues - and some unique issues - but you don't see them often in literature.  As such it's a good idea for a novel.

The novel is split into two parts.  In the first, set in the early 2000s, two teenage boys make friends when they meet by chance on a bike ride.  Stan, the younger, is bookish and lonely, bullied at a new school and unhappy at home after the death of his father.  Charlie appears to be everything Stan isn't - confident, tough and streetwise, but clearly clever and with a curiosity and love of trivia that suggests the two have more in common than their circumstances might at first suggests.  However Stan gradually learns that Charlie's Traveller family are victims of prejudice and that in turn, he isn't necessarily welcome in their world.  The second part is around ten years later, when the boys meet again by chance in London and find the gulf between them brought about by their cultures is much greater.  Stan wants to help Charlie - who has fallen on hard times - but is his help really what Charlie needs?

The book raises interesting questions and certainly made me think about the difficulties faced by Traveller families and how the whole structure of modern society is constructed in a way that makes their lifestyle very difficult to carry on.  I'd have liked to have had even more insight into the lives of the Traveller characters, because I find their culture interesting and like any culture, the more people can understand about it, the better everyone is likely to get along.  

It's often an extremely uncomfortable book to read - I'd get to points where I had to pause before carrying on because I felt that so acutely, which is very unusual for me.  That suggests it must be very effectively written.  Readers who have experienced bullying at school or racism may find it 'triggering' and so should consider if they wish to read.  It also doesn't pull punches - there aren't pretty fairy tale outcomes here.

I do feel it's a bit overwritten i.e. overly wordy in places.  It's one of those books where you have to resist the urge to skim some of the longer sections of internal monologue.  But it picks up pace in the sections with dialogue.  It's also not always an enjoyable read - so if you're in mood for something more fun and escapist, it's not the right choice.  But when you do want to read something more challenging about important and painful issues, it's worth it, particularly for its depiction of a group often neglected in literature.
Was this review helpful?
Thanks so much to Headline for letting me read Naomi Ishiguro's Common Ground in advance. I requested this one on a bit of a whim, and it probably shows - it wasn't a book that I hugely connected with, although I did enjoy it. 

Common Ground is about Stan, a thirteen-year-old getting bullied at his posh new school. On the common, he meets Charlie - who's older, cooler, more confident, and also a member of a Traveller community. This is a book primarily about friendship, as well as dealing with racism and navigating difficult circumstances. Although I read this book really quickly - enjoying the insight into the Traveller community and the exploration of male friendship - there wasn't a lot about this book that I found particularly memorable. Personally I felt like I needed more substance and more structure, but plenty of early reviewers have disagreed - so if this a book you're interested in reading, I'd recommend checking it out for yourself.
Was this review helpful?
Common Ground is a supeb novel and a must read for 2021. Following in the footsteps of recent excellent books such as Andrew O’Hagans Mayflies comes a great story of male friendship across the ages. This story is between Stan and Charlie, who meet on the Common. They come from different backgrounds but a strong friendship is formed.  
The book addresses family, loyalty and standing by your friends. The boys differences is a constant challenge throughout the novel but one that is constantly overcome, with the reader willing them on. The dynamic between the two makes for excellent reading and there is an infection buzz that surronds the novel whatever is going on. A really excellent novel and I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.
Was this review helpful?