The story begins with Kathy H., who describes herself as a carer, talking about looking after organ donors. She has been a carer for almost twelve years at the time of narration, and she often reminisces about her time spent at Hailsham, a boarding school in England, where the teachers are known as guardians. The children are watched closely and are often told about the importance of producing art and of being healthy. The students’ art is then displayed in an exhibition, and the best art is chosen by a woman known to the students as Madame, who keeps their work in a gallery. Kathy develops a close friendship with two other students: Ruth and Tommy. Kathy develops a fondness for Tommy by looking after him when he is bullied and having private talks with him. However, Tommy and Ruth form a relationship instead.