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Kathy, a thirty-one-year-old “carer,” recalls memories of her school days at Hailsham. In her memory, her friend Tommy throws a tantrum and afterward apologizes. The other boys continue to play pranks on Tommy, who responds with more outbursts. Kathy discusses the situation with Ruth and their other friends, and Ruth says that Tommy needs to try harder to be creative if he wants the teasing to stop. Kathy interrupts the memory and explains that students skilled at “creating” generally earned the most respect from their peers. The boys eventually stop teasing Tommy and even include him in their games, which puzzles Kathy, and when she approaches him about his new attitude, Tommy attributes it to the guardian Miss Lucy.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Part One, Chapters 1 & 2
Tommy tells Kathy that after speaking with Miss Lucy he began to adjust his behaviors. Miss Lucy told him she believes the students are not taught enough about donations, which makes Kathy and Tommy speculate about the connection between donations and creativity. Kathy surmises that her memories of Hailsham will help to clarify what happened between her, Tommy, and Ruth after they left school, recalling in the meantime the “tokens controversy” caused by Madame’s visits, explaining how students who submitted art to the Exchanges received tokens with which to purchase other students’ work, thus allowing students to build up collections of personal items. During the tokens controversy, one of the students asked Miss Lucy why Madame wanted their art in the first place, but Miss Lucy refused to explain.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 3 & 4
Kathy recalls her involvement with the secret guard, a group of students dedicated to protecting Miss Geraldine from supposed kidnappers. After Kathy covers for Ruth about where she got her pencil case, Ruth decides to help Kathy find her favorite cassette tape, a Judy Bridgewater album called Songs After Dark. Thoughts of the tape trigger several other memories for Kathy, including a memory of visiting Norfolk, where she found a copy of the tape with Tommy. Kathy returns to the story of losing her tape, and how she would play her favorite track, “Never Let Me Go,” which Kathy thinks is about a woman singing and holding her baby.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 5 & 6
Kathy recalls Miss Lucy becoming upset after she overhears two boys discuss their futures, which is inappropriate because their futures are already determined. Students at Hailsham fulfill their purpose in life by donating their vital organs, and Kathy remembers how the guardians tended to lecture on donations and sex at the same time. Kathy reflects on the guardians’ contradictory messages about sex, and how she felt left out because many of her friends claimed to have sex. After several weeks of preparing to ask her classmate Harry C. to have sex with her, Kathy changes her mind after Ruth and Tommy’s breakup. Even though Kathy urges Tommy to get back with Ruth, Tommy is apprehensive as they will be leaving Hailsham soon. The students hear that Miss Lucy has left Hailsham for good, and Tommy and Ruth get back together that night.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 7–9
Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy move into the Cottages and a group of older students already living there. They spend their days discussing literature, philosophy, and art, as well as working on their final essay assignments from Hailsham, which begin to feel less urgent as time goes on. Kathy and Ruth quarrel often, but they confide in one another more than ever, spending long evenings talking privately about their new lives. Kathy believes they have an unspoken agreement not to use anything they discuss against one another, until Ruth makes a comment about how Kathy has had sex with a few of the veteran boys. Kathy also remembers a conversation at Ruth’s recovery center, where Ruth expressed regret about throwing away her collection of Hailsham items at the Cottages.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Part Two, Chapters 10 & 11
At the end of winter, Chrissie and Rodney return to the Cottages after visiting Norfolk, where they claim to have seen Ruth’s possible, or someone in the outside world who looks like a possible model for one of the students (who are revealed to be clones). Chrissie and Rodney invite Ruth on a trip to Norfolk to search for her possible, and Kathy and Tommy decide to come too. When the group arrives, Kathy and Tommy try to ask Rodney and Chrissy about Ruth’s possible, but they are reluctant to discuss the subject, instead suggesting they visit their friend Martin, a carer. They discuss rumors about former Hailsham students including a rumor that Hailsham couples in love can apply to defer their donations for a few years.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 12 & 13
Kathy, Ruth, Tommy, Chrissie, and Rodney follow Ruth’s possible to an art gallery, where they realize that the woman is not Ruth’s possible, and the group tries to comfort Ruth. Ruth declares that it was a worthless idea to begin with, and when Rodney and Chrissie suggest visiting Martin again, Kathy and Tommy stay behind while Ruth joins them. Tommy and Kathy visit several stores searching for a copy of Songs After Dark. Tommy shares his theory that Kathy looks at pornographic magazines because she is searching for her possible, and he assures Kathy that her sexual urges are not unusual, admitting to having the same ones. When the rest of the group returns, Ruth is in a much better mood, yet Kathy decides not to tell Ruth about finding a copy of her lost tape.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 14 & 15
After the group returns to the Cottages they do not talk about the Norfolk trip any further, until one day, Tommy shows Kathy his drawings of animals, prompting Kathy to encourage Tommy to not keep his artwork a secret. A new group of students arrives, and Kathy starts to feel that Hailsham is slipping into the past. Kathy tries to act normal around Ruth and Tommy, but their friendship grows increasingly different, and one day while discussing Ruth and Tommy’s relationship, Kathy explains that Tommy would never be interested in her because he does not like dating girls who have slept with other men. Ruth, attempting to change the subject, starts talking about Hailsham but annoys Kathy by pretending not to remember details from their childhood. Kathy files paperwork to start her training as a carer and keeps her distance from Ruth and Tommy until she departs.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 16 & 17
Kathy, now working as a carer, runs into her Hailsham classmate Laura, and the two discuss how Hailsham has closed recently, and how Ruth had a bad first donation. After their conversation, Kathy decides to become Ruth’s carer, and though their visits are increasingly guarded, the situation changes when they hear a rumor of an old boat stranded in the marshes by the Kingsfield recovery center, the same center where Tommy is. Kathy agrees to drive Ruth to see the boat and visit Tommy, whom Ruth has not seen since the Cottages.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Part Three, Chapters 18 & 19
A year after visiting the boat, Kathy becomes Tommy’s carer, and eventually, Tommy and Kathy have sex and are happy together but cannot avoid feeling that they waited until it was too late. Tommy continues drawing more animals, a sign Kathy sees as Tommy preparing to apply for a deferral from his fourth donation. Kathy and Tommy visit Madame in her home, where Kathy says they have come to ask about deferrals, telling her that she and Tommy are in love, and Tommy explains his theory about the purpose of Madame’s gallery. After Tommy shows Madame his drawings, Miss Emily enters in a wheelchair and is asked by Madame to speak to Tommy and Kathy.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 20 & 21
Miss Emily explains that she is familiar with the rumors about deferrals, but confirms that deferrals have never existed, going on to elaborate that Hailsham was part of a progressive movement dedicated to making the donation program more humane. Showing the students’ artwork at exhibitions was done to prove that clones had souls, and Miss Emily goes on to explain how public opinion eventually turned against them, and she encourages Kathy and Tommy to consider themselves lucky. After the visit to Madame, Tommy stops drawings his animals in front of Kathy and when the notice for his fourth donation comes, Tommy tells Kathy that he wants a different carer. On Kathy’s last day as Tommy’s carer, they talk about Ruth and share a goodbye kiss. Kathy insists that she will not lose her memories even though she has lost everyone she loves.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 22 & 23