Never Let Me Go

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
Never Let Me Go Book Poster Image
Gripping sci-fi paints teens' bleak, unforgettable world.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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 & Representations

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.


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

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
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 auth... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byfluffycats October 12, 2017


This book is literally my favorite book of all time. I read it when I was 14 and it resonated with me deeply. It is definitely a heavy book in terms of the mate... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byzen.iba July 27, 2019

My favourite book

This is a beautiful dystopian book. There is a beautiful message of love, relationships and the importance of memories and the passing of time. It makes you que... Continue reading

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.

Talk to your kids 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

Our editors recommend

For kids who love science fiction

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