Published: July 2015 by Quercus
Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♡
Only Ever Yours is author Louise O’Neill’s debut novel which makes it all the more impressive that it won the YA Book Prize this year. There’s been a lot of hype surrounding this book so I was looking forward to diving into this. First things first, I think this book is best enjoyed going into it with as little knowledge of the plot as possible. I’ve kept the review spoiler-free but do avoid if you’re planning on reading the book!
Only Ever Yours is set in a speculative future where females are no longer conceived naturally. Instead girls (called eves) are “grown” and trained at the School to take on one of three role when they come of age: a Companion, the most desirable position as wives to wealthy and influential men, a Concubine, or a Chastity, women relegated to raising and instructing eves in their education. frieda and isabel have been best friends since they entered the School. However, the pressure of final year sees isabel going off the rails putting her beauty, and her #1 ranking, at risk. As the pool of potential husbands are introduced to the eves, frieda is forced to do what she can to survive – even if that means sacrificing her friendship with isabel in the process…
The book has been described as a cross between The Handmaid’s Tale and Mean Girls, but it was a really fresh and interesting take on feminist ideas and patriarchal society. O’Neill world-builds really effectively, the disturbing nature of the School and the society are in the details – the girls’ strict food intake, their room decor and their structured lives. I also adored O’Neill’s writing style. Her words and sentences are raw and unforgiving, and I was particularly drawn to her similes – some of which actually made me physically uncomfortable (hard to do!)
They must be dead now, those trees, like everything else. Rotted away, decaying like female babies in the uterus. Decomposing from the inside out.
The characters are simply put, unlikeable – they are vapid and spiteful towards one another and have little, to no, redeeming qualities but that is the whole point. They are a reflection of the depraved society they live in. The girls’ every day is punctuated by rankings and comparisons, which define their worth. The subliminal messaging they are constantly bombarded with whilst asleep and the not-so-subliminal messages of the Chastitys sermons are brutal and brainwashing. There is no let up and no loyalty, the brutality the eves show one another is exhausting but also, uncomfortably familiar too.
Fat girls should be made obsolete.
I wasn’t sold on frieda’s actions towards the end of the book. Whilst they demonstrated her desperation and complete lack of control over her fate, there were times when I wanted to shake her for making naive choices and silly mistakes. isabel is an intentionally distant character, her story is revealed rather slowly, but I would’ve liked to get to know her character a bit better, beyond the numerous flashbacks, especially as frieda worshipped her best friend throughout most of their childhood. There were also some fascinating concepts introduced by the author, such as “Underground” and “female aberrants”, left unexplored which was a shame. The sticking point for many reviewers seems to concern the ending. I must admit I wasn’t totally convinced by the wrap up – it seemed a bit rushed – but neither was I expecting a neatly tied bow, it’s just not that sort of book.
All in all, I was blown away by the sheer intensity of the topics explored in Only Ever Yours and O’Neill’s unflinching style. This is a difficult and uncomfortable read, but it’s supposed to be. O’Neill takes the worst of our society and cranks it up a couple of notches. The reader is forced to confront situations, that while not realistic (yet!), is not a total stretch of the imagination to believe. Definitely one not to miss!
If you’re looking for something similar, the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld is a cult YA classic. Otherwise, The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, which O’Neill drew inspiration from is a modern dystopian classic.
Have you read Only Ever Yours? What were your thoughts on the ending? Let me know in the comments below 🙂