Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Published: Vintage International, 2006
It's really going to be difficult to write a review of this vague and super-mysterious book without giving away the whole thing, but I really want to get this out there because this is one of my favorite books I've read recently. Told from 31-year-old Kathy's point of view, it is divided into three parts, which roughly represent her childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
The bulk of the book is Kathy detailing her upbringing and schooling at a very private institution known as Hailsham, where children are raised in a boarding school-type setting by adults known to them as "guardians." Hailsham has some strange rules and customs, but the children (including Kathy and her best friends Ruth and Tommy) are happy to accept and live with them. Every couple of weeks, the headmistress of Hailsham comes and takes the children's very best artwork (poetry, paintings, sculptures, etc.). Very proud of their creative endeavors, the children are mystified by this practice and always wonder why the headmistress takes their work and what she is using it for.
Kathy talks a lot about her relationships with Ruth and Tommy, Ruth and Tommy's relationship with each other, specific experiences from their childhoods, etc. But what's most interesting about this book is the underlying plot that we only get very subtle hints at every couple of pages.
Through a whole lot of reading between the lines and a few direct clues, the position and purpose of the children at Hailsham is very slowly revealed. One reviewer called this book "quietly disturbing," and I really can't think of a better way to describe it.
Once I started to figure out the mystery behind Hailsham, I could not put this book down. I wanted more hints and more clarity, which Ishiguro is extremely stingy with. It is heartbreaking, disturbing, and deeply moving. At its heart, it is a realistic representation of how someone actually living in a dystopia might see the world -- no judgment, no hindsight, no foresight.
Anyway, I hope I gave away enough that people will want to read it but not so much that it will ruin the mystery. I know at least my mom will read it, and I take solace in the fact that when she skips to the last chapter to figure out what's going on, she won't be able to figure it out. #winning