Study Guide

Never Let Me Go

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go Introduction


Want more deets? We've also got a complete Online Course about Never Let Me Go, with three weeks worth of readings and activities to make sure you know your stuff.


Okay, Shmoopers, let's conduct an experiment. When we say "1990s," you jot down the first things that come to mind. Ready? Set? 1990s!

Now open up the first page of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. It takes place in England in the late 1990s, so we should see at least one of our '90s associations in there, right? Nope. Zilch.

Instead we get weird words like "carers" and "donors" and a bleak visit of a not so jolly olde England. Maybe it's just us, but this definitely isn't the '90s we were thinking of.

There's no doubt about it: Never Let Me Go gives us a picture of the '90s that isn't nearly as pretty as the folks on 90210. In the book, we find a dystopia where everything seems perfect. But the sad truth is that this world isn't perfect for everyone. And it's definitely not perfect for Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, three friends who grow up together only to discover their terrible fate.

We don't want to spill all the beans here, so we'll just say this: Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are in for a wild ride. Over time, they'll learn about their true (and dark) purpose in this funky world and why they have had such a special childhood. See, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy aren't exactly human like the rest of us… or are they? And what does it even mean to be human in the first place? While they wrestle with that question themselves they'll also figure out just how important friendship and their memories of growing up together will be in the face of some seriously high stakes.

If that all sounds scintillating, we can assure you: most folks agree. When Ishiguro published Never Let Me Go in 2005, it flew off the shelves. And it's still flying. In fact, it's so popular that it's now one of the hottest books showing up on syllabi from high school to college. Plus there's the fact that the novel was nominated for all kinds of awesomesauce awards, including the Man Booker Prize. What can we say? This book's kind of a big deal.

And now, you'll have an extra treat when you've finished Never Let Me Go. Not only can you spend hours and hours on Shmoop scoping out all the Never Let Me Go goodies we've worked up for your delight, but you can also watch Mark Romanek's 2010 movie version starring Keira Knightley. Give a watch and see how it stacks up against the novel.

What is Never Let Me Go About and Why Should I Care?

There are oodles of reasons to pick up Never Let Me Go and—dare we say it?—never let it go. But here's our reason numero uno: friends.

Say it with us: friends rock. Whether it's heading out on a road trip, hitting up a concert, or just grabbing a bite to eat, life would be pretty stinkin' dull without good buds with whom to share good times.

But the truth is that not all friendships are perfect. You know what we're talking about. There are bound to be fights, squabbles, and even fallings out. But hey, having experienced all these things means you'll fit right in with Kathy and her pals. Never Let Me Go gives us a good long look at what happens when friendships don't always go according to plan. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy have had their fair share of tiffs and bruised egos. The trio has even gone years without talking.

But even with all this baggage, their friendships still endure the test of time (and a bunch of other tests, to boot). In the end, they're Best Friends Forever. And reading about this trio may just make you a better friend, too. The next time you come close to dropping your bestie for eating all your French fries, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy just might make you think twice.

Never Let Me Go Resources


Meet Kazuo Ishiguro
Check out the life and times of Ishiguro. Fair warning: this guy is so awesome it's a little intimidating.

Friend Kazuo Ishiguro
Indulge your inner stalker and follow Ishiguro on Facebook to get his updates in your newsfeed.

Movie or TV Productions

Never Let Me Go (2010)
This flick is directed by Mark Romanek and fairly faithful to the book. But there are some key distinctions. Give it a watch and see if you can spot 'em.

Articles and Interviews

Q&A with Ishiguro in The Paris Review
Read Susannah Hunnewell's interview with Ishiguro in The Paris Review. She got to chat with Ishiguro in his home and he even made her tea. Jealous? We are.

The Real Ishiguro and Fake Judy Bridgewater
Take a look at Peter Howell's quest to find the "real" Judy Bridgewater along with some email chats he had with Ishiguro about the fictional singer and her song.

Washington Post Book Review
Check out Jonathan Yardley's Washington Post review of Never Let Me Go. He tries not to spill the beans on the plot for readers who have yet to finish the book, but it's a difficult dance to pull off.

A Peek at the Book versus the Movie
Spoilers can really, well, spoil the reading experience. NPR takes a look at how spoilers work in the book and movie versions of Never Let Me Go.

New York Times Movie Review
Get into the little details with Manohla Dargis and her New York Times movie review.

NPR Movie Review
Check out Mark Jenkins's movie review from NPR and see if you agree with him about the movie's ending.

A Critical Movie Review
David Cox isn't totally sold on this flick. He gives us a critical breakdown of Romanek's Never Let Me Go in The Guardian.


Everything You Could Ever Want in an Ishiguro Interview
Check out this interview where Ishiguro chats about Never Let Me Go and what the novel is really about.

Ishiguro Talks about Time in Never Let Me Go
Life is short. In case you need a reminder, watch Ishiguro discuss how we deal with our limited life spans in Never Let Me Go and in real life.

Ishiguro Chats about Friendship and Mortality
See Ishiguro dish on love, friendship, mortality, and passivity in your new favorite novel.

Never Let Me Go Trailer
Watch the official trailer. But finish the book first because there are spoilers.

Chatting About the Movie
Go behind the scenes with Ishiguro, director Mark Romanek, and screenwriter Alex Garland as they discuss Never Let Me Go alongside the film's three stars.


Ishiguro Reading on NPR
No need to guess what Kathy's story sounds like. Let Ishiguro show you how it's done when he reads the very beginning of Never Let Me Go and talks about the novel.

Audio Book
Perk up your ears and listen to a clip of the Never Let Me Go audio book.

Audio Clips from the Movie
Take a quick peek at the movie with brief sound bites from the film.


Hardback Cover
Here's the cover of the 2005 hardback edition.

Paperback Cover
This paperback cover features a serious close-up. Check it out.

Songs After Dark Album Cover
Check out the Judy Bridgewater album cover created for the movie and see if it's the same as you imagined.

Peeping Toms (or Ruths and Kathys)
Here's an iconic image from the movie.