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The protagonist and the narrator of the novel. Kathy H. is a thirty-one-year-old carer who wants to make sense of her memories before becoming a donor at the end of the year. Her recollections express her nostalgic longing for the past, as well as her fierce desire to hold onto the memory of her childhood friends Ruth and Tommy. Kathy tends to restrain her emotions, often expressing her feelings only indirectly. She frequently assumes the role of quiet observer, contrasting with Ruth’s more fiery personality. Kathy is also an unreliable narrator, and her memories are marked by omissions as well as subjective opinions.
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Kathy’s childhood friend and a fellow student at Hailsham. Ruth grows up with Kathy at Hailsham, where Ruth’s charismatic and temperamental personality makes her the natural leader in their friend group. Ruth is eager to stand out from her peers, and often pretends to have special knowledge and privileges that other students do not. Ruth is a foil to the more reserved Kathy, with whom she frequently quarrels. Ruth’s relationship with Tommy contributes to this tension, as Kathy quietly harbors her own romantic feelings for Tommy. Although manipulative and cruel at times, Ruth also has moments of genuine thoughtfulness and caring towards her friends.
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Kathy’s childhood friend, also a student at Hailsham. As a child, Tommy struggles with “being creative” and is teased for his lack of artistic abilities. He develops a violent temper, which he later learns to control. Tommy desires to understand the mysterious aspects of life at Hailsham. Committed to finding out the truth, he bonds with Kathy through theorizing about why the school places so much importance on creativity. Tommy has a frank and straightforward attitude, which contrasts with Kathy’s emotional restraint.
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One of the guardians at Hailsham. Miss Lucy has a brisk but sympathetic attitude, and works mostly with the older students. She is conflicted about her role at Hailsham, where she believes that the guardians are not explicit enough with the students about their futures. Her frustration often results in odd behavior, including visible flashes of anger.
The head guardian at Hailsham. Miss Emily is older than the other guardians, and the students generally find her intimidating. However, they respect her decisions and her presence at Hailsham makes them feel safe. Miss Emily has a stern demeanor and a sharp intellect, although she lapses at times into a dream-like daze. When Tommy and Kathy encounter her again as adults, Miss Emily is self-satisfied and complacent about her failed charitable work on behalf of the students.
A kind and sympathetic guardian at Hailsham. Miss Geraldine works primarily with the younger students. The students adore her, and Ruth in particular wants her favor. Miss Geraldine teaches art classes, and inadvertently encourages the other students to tease Tommy when she praises his childish watercolor.
A Hailsham benefactor. Madame occasionally visits Hailsham to take away the best student artwork, which she is rumored to place in a personal gallery. Her attitude to the students is distant and cold, leading them to believe that she is afraid of them.
A veteran student who lives at the Cottages, and Rodney’s girlfriend. Chrissie did not attend Hailsham, and seems to be in awe of the Hailsham students. She is kind and welcoming when they arrive, but Kathy correctly suspects that that she has a hidden motive. Chrissie hopefully clings to the possibility of a deferral on donations, rumored to be available to Hailsham couples in love. She forms a natural alliance with Ruth, who also bases her hopefulness about the future on rumor and speculation. Chrissie later “completes” on her second donation.
Another veteran who lives at the Cottages, and Chrissie’s boyfriend. Friendly and easy-going, Rodney wears his hair in a long ponytail and likes to talk about reincarnation. Although Kathy finds Rodney likeable, she also senses that he is generally under Chrissie’s influence. Rodney did not attend Hailsham. Together with Chrissie, he turns to the Hailsham students for help in pursuing a “deferral” on their donations.
A Hailsham student who later moves to the Cottages with Kathy. Laura is an energetic and mischievous girl at Hailsham, where she is part of Kathy and Ruth’s friend group. But when she later reconnects with Kathy as a carer, Laura is exhausted and worn down. Laura encourages Kathy to become Ruth’s carer.
Another Hailsham student who moves to the Cottages with Kathy.
A Hailsham student with whom Kathy briefly considers having sex as a teenager.
The gruff caretaker at the Cottages.
An unnamed woman who works at an open-plan office in Norfolk. Kathy and her friends initially believe that she resembles Ruth, suggesting that the woman might be Ruth’s “possible,” or the person from whose DNA Ruth was cloned.
A carer who lives in Norfolk. Martin used to live at the Cottages, and is friends with Rodney and Chrissie. Although he never appears in the novel, Rodney and Chrissie take Ruth to visit him after their failed search for Ruth’s possible.
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