Never Let Me Go Book Poster Image

Never Let Me Go

Gripping sci-fi paints teens' bleak, unforgettable world.

What parents need to know

Educational value

It's important to separate fantasy from reality here. Though Ishiguro blends some real English geography into the science fiction world he creates, almost all of the places in Never Let Me Go are pure inventions.

Positive messages

Many of the characters have real affection for one another and develop close relationships in spite of their bleak prospects. The novel also places a high value on artistic creativity as a sign of humanity.

Positive role models

Kathy, the central character in Never Let Me Go, shows real compassion and understanding toward her friends. Despite the fact that her closest girlfriend, Ruth, often lies and manipulates people, Kathy always tries to see Ruth's point of view, and she is kind to the volatile Tommy even when he is ostracized by most other students. Some of the adult teachers, called "guardians," are also kind and concerned. Miss Lucy wants to reveal more information to her students because she believes this is most fair to them. Miss Emily and Madame care a great deal about the students' quality of life.


Tommy is emotionally on edge and throws temper tantrums during which he screams and swears at other kids who tease him.


Characters talk a lot about having sex, and it is mentioned that some couples have sex. One guardian educates her students about the mechanics of sexual intercourse, and encourages her students not to become sexually involved unless it is with someone with whom they feel emotionally connected. In one scene, a woman briefly describes masturbating her boyfriend.

Not applicable

The sci-fi world of Never Let Me Go, particularly at the Hailsham boarding school, has its own strange economic system. Students trade "tokens" for items they find in "sales." Within this context, the students place a high value on certain possessions, which they collect and display.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Never Let Me Go is set in a highly disturbing sci-fi reality in which young people try to make sense of their relationships and an increasingly hopeless world. The author introduces a host of invented, unnatural roles: students, guardians, careers, and donors, and slowly reveals what these labels mean. However, most of the interpersonal situations that crop up are fairly believable, typical adolescent scenarios, and tween and teen readers may identify with the central characters. Though this book, by one of England's most acclaimed living novelists, was written for an adult audience, the teen and young adult characters make it appealing to younger readers, and the prose is simple and straightforward enough to make it accessible to readers aged 12 and up. However, some parents may feel the book's sexual content is too strange for pre-teen readers. A film version of Never Let Me Go received positive reviews when it was released in 2010 (out on video in 2011), but was rightfully called very dark and depressing.

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What's the story?

Now a young woman, Kathy reflects on her life as a child and as a teen at Hailsham, the exclusive English boarding school she attended. She recalls the intimate relationships she forged with Ruth, whose lies tested their friendship, and Tommy, a troubled and sensitive outcast. Over time, the three central characters uncover the truth about their guardians, their fate, and what they mean to each other.

Is it any good?


Readers are kept on very much the same footing as the central characters; we experience the same kind of suspense as the dark, disturbing reality they face unfolds, and it's gripping. As he famously proved in his Man Booker Award-winning novel Remains of the Day (1989), Ishiguro is a master of restraint; he holds back just enough to create emotional tension, so even his least eventful plots become page-turners. Though Never Let Me Go is not a masterpiece on the order of Remains, it is thought-provoking and creates a fully realized, horrific, unforgettable world.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about human cloning, which figures in the story. If such a thing were possible in the real world, should it be done?

  • Do you agree with Miss Lucy that students should have been told more about their future lives and purpose? Why or why not?

  • In many ways, Kathy and her friends seem like pretty typical teenagers. What do you think makes them seem "normal," or not?

  • Kathy and Ruth's relationship is quite troubled. Why do you think Kathy forgives Ruth so much?

Book details

Author:Kazuo Ishiguro
Genre:Science Fiction
Topics:Friendship, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Vintage Books
Publication date:March 14, 2006
Number of pages:304

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Parent of a 9 and 12 year old Written byM382 October 1, 2015

Fascinating social sci-fi

Relationships matter more here than Asimov's works, and female characters are prominent. I suggested this to our 12-year-old son primarily because the author's work all across the board is so phenomenal and this is such food for thought. Parents should know that the sexual content here is the main character's mention of "wanting to do it with everybody" and wondering whether something's wrong with her and a second mention by a secondary character saying that she "did it" with other people while dating someone, and that's it. This can certainly be the trigger for a discussion about promiscuity - because we plan to discuss the book - or, it may go completely over my 12-year-old's head. Regardless, he is not allowed to read The Hunger Games, which I found shockingly, despicably violent. In comparison this is a tame and beautifully written book with so much food for thought that the sexual references are worth it.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models