This novel went in a completely different direction than I expected to from reading the backcover. Based on the backcover which mentioned a secluded, exclusive boarding school in England with three students and their relationship, I figured it would be about them growing up together. And it was definitely about that, but there was so much more going on as well.
The narrator, Kathy, explains that she is a carer helping donors. I figured I'd get an explanation as the novel progressed but basically thought that meant she was a nurse who specialized in working with organ donations and patients or a nurse that helps terminally ill patients. She said she even was at the point where she was allowed to choose her own patients, and had lately chosen to deal mainly with people from Hailsham. From other comments she makes and descriptions of her patients that aren't from Hailsham, I got the impression that Hailsham was a very exclusive boarding school but also seemed to refer to possibly the upper crust and a rather well to do part of society. Ishiguro uses assumptions people would normally make about private boarding schools so that he doesn't even have to mislead the reader - my own preconceptions managed to do that for me.
However, there soon seemed to be something rather odd about this school: all the students are encouraged to be ''creative,'' making life for Tommy rather miserable since he has no artistic talent. His inability to draw leads him to be somewhat ostracized for a while. It made it sound like a school whose goal was to create well-rounded individuals but then there was also the issue of the gallery: their best pieces were taken away. This actually made me wonder if this was going to go into Vonnegut territory. Perhaps the school was part of a society where they want everyone to be well-rounded but no one to be better than anyone else. I was wrong about that theory. There are no red herrings in the novel, everything pulls together and makes sense but not in a way that was necessarily expected at all.
I'm not sure how much more I can get into it without giving away the larger twists but in addition to all that, at its heart, the novel is a story about three friends growing up together: Kathy, Ruth and Tommy. Their relationships are very much what one might expect from a novel about boarding school but so much more complicated. Ruth is the queen bee while Kathy is more or less her loyal follower. Tommy matures from the teased boy to a person Kathy appreciates as honest and warm. The novel explores their relationship while also taking a look at something much larger involving ethics. It kept me reading because I wanted to know what would happen next and yet I would also describe it as rather peaceful despite the turns it takes.