We can sum this book up for you in three little sentences: Kathy is a carer. Then she becomes a donor. Then she "completes." The end.
Okay, there's a bit more to Kathy's life than that. Well, a lot more. And fair warning: this book jumps back and forth and back again in time, so it can be tough to keep it all straight. Hold on to your hats.
The book starts out in England in the 1990s. Kathy H., our narrator, is a thirty-one year old woman who spends her days as a "carer." Her job involves traveling between recovery centers and helping "donors" to recuperate after giving a "donation." She doesn't tell us what these mysterious donations are, but they don't sound like much fun.
Working as a carer gives Kathy a ton of time to reminisce about Hailsham, the place where she grew up. This job also gives her opportunities to reconnect with Ruth and Tommy, her old pals from Hailsham.
Here's the thing: Hailsham was an awesome joint and all (who doesn't love drawing classes and playing football?), but it's also filled with a fair bit of mystery and misery. The students never leave the Hailsham grounds and are kept in the dark about what's in store for them in the future. What they do know is that they are special, and that it's super duper important for them to be creative. So Hailsham students work a lot on poetry and art with the hope that Madame, a lady who lives outside Hailsham, will select their art pieces for her Gallery.
Being creative is a problem for Tommy, who just isn't that artsy. Instead, Tommy becomes a social outcast and throws a lot of tantrums. Even when he's as old as thirteen. Super awkward. But for the most part, Kathy and Tommy have a special bond and she's the only one who can really connect with him during his rough patches.
And then there's Ruth. Kathy and Ruth have a relationship that is, well, rocky, to put it nicely. They repeatedly hurt one another's feelings, and then try to find some gesture to make amends rather than talk about their problems directly. Yeah, it's a roller coaster up in here.
While at Hailsham, Kathy's most prized possession is a cassette tape with songs by Judy Bridgewater. While she's alone in her dorm room, Kathy loves listening to her favorite song, "Never Let Me Go." And when the song has the…