YA Book Reviews for the Seasons: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
You may have heard that author Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017. Ishiguro is best known for his 1989 novel, The Remains of the Day. More recently, in 2005, he published a haunting novel entitled Never Let Me Go. While Ishiguro likely intended Never Let Me Go to be read mainly by adult audiences, the plot of the novel focuses heavily on the main character’s recollections of adolescence. As such, it can be relateable and enjoyable for teens, especially older teens. This beautifully woven novel is the perfect, contemplative read for a snowy day, provided that you don’t mind a sad story.
Fans of classic and contemporary dystopian novels, from The Handmaid’s Tale to The Hunger Games, will likely enjoy this book. However, there has been much dispute over the book’s genre. I would argue that it is a literary dystopia, with some romance elements as well. To call it “science fiction” may be a misleading. This genre fits the plot, but not so much the tone. Avid readers of action-packed science fiction would likely place this slow-moving, character-driven book in another category. Given the fact that Never Let Me Go focuses so heavily on the experience of adolescence, it could also be called a “coming of age” story. It is difficult to elaborate on these distinctions without giving away important plot information. While avoiding specific spoilers, it is important to note that this book is best suited for teen and adult readers who don’t mind a good cry. Ishiguro’s skilled writing makes it easy to become attached to, and care deeply about the characters in this book, and think about their fate even days after you have finished reading.
Ishiguro is slow to reveal the inner workings of the disturbing society he has imagined in this book. Readers are instead immersed in the deep characterization and beautiful, lyrical prose as the main character, Kathy, relays memories of her childhood spent at an isolated boarding school known as Hailsham. The teachers there, known as “Guardians,” put a heavy emphasis not only on schooling but also on maintenance of physical health, and the creation of art. The children are told that they are very special, but are not told why. These facts may strike the reader as unusual, driving him or her to want to read more to put the pieces of this puzzle together, but Kathy relays this information matter-of-factly. It is the only reality she knows.
There are several deftly woven themes for readers to analyze and discuss together, including questions about art, love, illness, and ethics. Parents who do not mind spoilers and want more details about the book’s content should check out the Common Sense Media page for the book, which also provides discussion questions. This could be an excellent parent-child read or book club read given how much there is to discuss about the book, both on the surface level and much deeper.
Published by Faber and Faber, 2005
Emily has a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Simmons College. She currently works as a Research Librarian at Deerfield Academy, an independent boarding and day school. She has a strong passion for both academic and creative writing, which she enjoys sharing with students. You can find more of her book reviews in School Library Journal.