Tasha Kavanagh has previously published a number of children’s books, and judging by the tone and point of view of her first novel, Things We Have In Common, she is still drawn to that genre. Indeed, the subject matter here places this debut adult work into that crossover space shared by adult and ‘young adult’ reader alike, rather like Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.
Things we have in common, revolves around Yasmin Laksaris, a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl who lives with her mother and stepfather. Yasmin weighs a stone for every year of her life, and as well as suffering from an unhealthy relationship with food, she clearly has a number of other mental health issues, many of which appear to stem from the untimely death of her father some years before. Her mother tries to help her eat more sensibly, but often fails due to her need to indulge her daughter. Yasmin has no friends at school, where she is cruelly bullied and taunted by a number of her peers. There is a familiarity to Yasmin’s situation which takes only a few paragraphs to identify – with a few tweaks, all these statements could equally have been made about Rae Earl in her autobiographical work –My Fat Mad Teenage Diary (Hodder, 2007).
Notwithstanding my disquiet at the seemingly derivative nature of Yasmin’s situation, I did enjoy this novel. I would also recommend the book to young adults, being one which could be studied in an educative environment, as it contains a number of elements which would definitely provoke lively discussion and debate.
Its six chapters are named after food, from “Chocolate Hobnobs”, to “Turkish Delight”, each cleverly descriptive of the content and tone of the chapters that follow. It’s a pretty fast read, as the language and voice of the first person narrator are on the simplistic and immature side for a 15-year-old, which far from being a criticism, is actually very fitting for the mental state and abilities of Yasmin herself, and perfectly authentic. It’s not a long novel, but the first three chapters do feel slightly overwritten, and a bit of cutting into some of what seems like unnecessary detail might have lent them a brisker pace, which I feel might have tightened and enhanced the flow of the whole novel.
Yasmin’s main focus in the opening chapters is on Alice, a classmate upon whom she has a substantial crush, and with skilled use of the first person narrative, there’s a great deal of insight given into just how unhinged and oppressive Yasmin’s obsession has become.
I started keeping other things of Alice’s I found after that…just things that were nice or personal to her…The thing in Alice’s Box that you’d probably think the weirdest was one of her trainer socks. For a few days I wasn’t sure myself if it should go in, but then because I liked holding it and smelling it, I decided it should.
It’s very difficult to say much about most of the plot without introducing spoilers, but from the fourth chapter (“Rotting Fruit”) onwards, there’s a pick up in the pace and a finely crafted piece of McGuffin-like misdirection, of which Hitchcock himself would have been proud. Kavanagh skilfully maintains the reader’s compassionate feelings for Yasmin right up until the very end of the final revelatory chapter “Turkish Delight”, at which point we might ask how we could possibly still feel for her, given the horrific situation which she herself has been a party to creating. It is a testament to Tasha Kavanagh’s craft as a writer that the flame of sympathy for Yasmin continues to burn, even if ever so faintly, long after the book has been closed and set aside.