Yasmin would give anything to have a friend…
And do anything to keep one.
The first time I saw you, you were standing at the far end of the playing field. You were looking down at your brown straggly dog, but then you looked up, your mouth going slack as your eyes clocked her. Alice Taylor. I was no different. I used to catch myself gazing at the back of her head in class, at her silky fair hair swaying between her shoulder blades.
If you’d glanced just once across the field you’d have seen me standing in the middle on my own, looking straight at you, and you’d have gone back through the trees to the path quick, tugging your dog after you. You’d have known you’d given yourself away, even if only to me.
But you didn’t. You only had eyes for Alice.
Things We Have in Common was a gripping and unsettling psychological thriller. It’s not a fast-paced book, but it’s a fascinating look into the mind of a desperately lonely person, who I felt creeped-out by and sorry for in equal measure, and I was hooked from the beginning.
The story is narrated by 15-year-old Yasmin, an isolated, overweight girl, with no friends, who fantasises about Alice, a girl from her school, whom she believes is special (not like the other girls who bully Yasmin every day). Yasmin used to have friends, but after her dad passed away, she withdrew into herself, turning to food for comfort, and gradually, her friends turned away from her, leaving her completely alone. Now she has nobody, she passes her days eating chocolate hobnobs and making up stories in her head about the girl she so desperately wants to be friends with.
The novel opens with Yasmin noticing a man she perceives to be ‘watching’ Alice. Yasmin instantly becomes convinced that this man is plotting to kidnap Alice and hurt her, so she starts following Alice around everywhere in order to ‘protect’ her. However, Alice’s friends don’t see her behaviour in quite the same way. In fact, Yasmin spends most of the novel getting the word ‘stalker’ thrown at her, and it’s not entirely unjustified…
Yasmin quickly becomes deeply involved in her fantasy of ‘saving’ Alice from this man, to the extent that, in order to find out more about him, she deliberately tracks him down by stealing his dog (Bea), learning his address from Bea’s tag, and pretending to helpfully bring her back to him. After reluctantly letting Yasmin in, Samuel agrees to allow Yasmin to start taking Bea for walks, and this marks the beginning of a strange and uncomfortable friendship between Yasmin – a school-girl – and Samuel, the man she has already decided is a paedophile and would-be kidnapper. This relationship only grows more uncomfortable to read, as Alice really does go missing later in the novel, and Yasmin still does believe Samuel is responsible. Yet despite the terrible things she thinks he’s done, she doesn’t seem to be able to stay away from him.
I picked out this novel initially because I was intrigued by The Independent speculating it could become the next ‘Gone Girl success story’. I’m always wary when critics brand something TNGG (partly because, although I enjoyed the book, I don’t see it as the golden standard by which every other book in the psychological thriller genre should be measured, and partly because the comparison is used far too liberally… it’s almost as annoying as every single dystopian novel getting labelled ‘the new Hunger Games’….) However, I haven’t come across many YA novels which have been likened to Gone Girl, so I was curious to see whether the comparison was justified in this case.
I can definitely see some similarities. As with Gone Girl, the narrator of this novel is a deeply unreliable one. Yasmin’s narrative is awkward and dark and you can practically feel her breathing down your neck (which is pretty much how I felt reading Nick Dunne’s creepy descriptions of his wife’s head at the beginning of Gone Girl….) She definitely gives off a standing-too-close kind of vibe. The way Yasmin lives in a total fantasy land also gives her shades of GG’s Amy.
Yasmin gives us a blurred version of events, and we’re never quite sure which things are true and which things are merely what Yasmin desperately wishes were true. Has Samuel really taken Alice? Or is it all just part of Yasmin’s fantasy of ‘saving’ Alice from the man? Yasmin lies constantly… to her family, to her classmates… even to the police when Alice goes missing, and she neglects to inform them about the person she suspects took her, not to mention omits details from her account of her own whereabouts the night Alice disappeared. I was suspicious of Yasmin throughout, because her fascination with Alice definitely crossed the creepy line one too many times (for example, Yasmin likes to pick up things Alice has touched – her leftover chocolate bar wrapper, the hairband she drops in the changing room – and keeps them in a little Alice-obsession-box in her bedroom). The question of whether Yasmin is the one who’s really taken Alice was never far from my mind.
Despite the discomfort I felt reading Yasmin’s story, I also found myself empathising with her and liking her. There’s a heartbreaking scene where she visits her dad’s grave, and it really made me see her as a lost little girl; all she’s really looking for is the love and friendship nobody seems to want to give her. This book depicts the desperate lines a person might cross simply to put an end to their loneliness, which although disturbing, is also very, very sad.
I was gripped throughout this novel, and constantly questioning all of the characters, but I was a little disappointed with the ending. This was certainly no neat wrap-up. In fact, it didn’t feel like there was any kind of wrap-up at all; when I reached the last page on my Kindle, I was swiping the screen, expecting another chapter. We do get some answers, but they’re not explored in depth, and there’s no fall-out from the main twist. Plus, with the unreliable narration, I’m not even convinced the answers actually tell the whole story. I didn’t necessarily mind the ambiguity (I think ambiguity was the whole point of this book), but the ending did feel very abrupt, and I expected more depth to the resolution, even if there weren’t definite answers.
I’d urge you not to let what I’ve just said about the ending put you off, however, as this was still a great read. If you love psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators, this book will be right up your street! It’s well-written, and the perfect blend of uncomfortable and creepy.