The students at Hailsham each own a wooden chest where they keep items that are precious to them. These items have often been purchased at the ‘exchanges’ or the sales which are held in the school once a month. Exchanges are for goods handmade by the students but it is at the sales that the students buy their clothes and special items that have not been made by fellow students. The tokens controversy begins because students feel that their best work is being taken by Madame for the Gallery and they are therefore unable to claim tokens for them. This annoys the students as usually they are able to claim the most tokens for their prized pieces of work. One student, Roy, questions the head guardian Miss Emily about the unfairness of this. The other students are concerned Roy will get into serious trouble for questioning a guardian but eventually it is agreed that pupils will be fairly rewarded but the honour of the gallery is stressed.
Ruth enjoys riding her imaginary horses and when she invites Kathy to ‘ride’ one of them they become close friends. Ruth also invents a secret guard to monitor Miss Geraldine, one of the students’ favourite guardians as Ruth feels she is somehow in danger. This adds to the atmosphere of mystery that surrounds Hailsham, where nothing is as it seems. The reader is aware that it is a place shrouded in secrecy.
Ruth claims to be an expert chess player but when Kathy asks Ruth to teach her how to play, Ruth always gives an excuse. When she does try to teach Kathy, it is obvious that Ruth cannot play herself and this leads to one of many disagreements between the girls, when Ruth tries to belittle Kathy and exclude her from their wider circle of friends. Ruth often tells lies, such as claiming Miss Geraldine gave her a pencil case which the other girls admire. Kathy is torn between loyalty to Ruth and exposing her as a liar and a fraud.
During a lesson with Miss Emily, the pupils are taught about Norfolk. Miss Emily refers to it as “…a peaceful corner of England, rather nice. But it’s also something of a lost corner.” The pupils soon start believing that Norfolk is the place where all the lost property found in the country ends up.
Kathy’s favourite cassette tape is called Songs of Dark by Judy Bridgewater. One of the reasons she buys it in the sales is because the front cover shows a picture of the singer smoking. This is a secret act of rebellion as smoking is considered an appalling habit at Hailsham. One of the other pupils, Marge once asks Miss Lucy if she has ever smoked and Miss Lucy admits that she has, shocking Kathy and her friends who are left wondering why it is so much worse if the students smoke compared to anyone else.
When she is alone Kathy likes to listen to her favourite Judy Bridgewater song, Never Let Me Go. One day she does this whilst holding a pillow, clutching it to her chest as if it is a baby. Kathy is shocked to realise that Madame is watching her and that she is crying. Madame hurries away but Kathy does not understand what Madame’s actions mean or why she is crying. Kathy is very upset a few months later when she discovers that the tape has disappeared.