Only Ever Yours - Louise O'Neill

Genre: Young Adult/Dystopian
Synopsis: In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful. For the girls left behind, the future – as a concubine or a teacher – is grim. Best friends Freida and Isabel are sure they’ll be chosen as companions – but as the intensity of final year takes hold, Isabel does the unthinkable and starts to put on weight. .. And then, into this sealed female environment, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride. Freida must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known. . .


Review:  Unapologetically harrowing, Only Ever Yours is a roller coaster of psychological and social horror that starts at ground level and plunges down into the depths of despair. I'm not going to try to convince anyone that this is an easy read, but it is a worthwhile one. Imagine a society which subverts women and renders them as literally nothing more than lab-grown, son-bearing or desire-fulfilling slaves to men. Imagine being a woman raised in this society, where being 'academic' is among the worst insults for you, and being fat is the most life-altering disaster that can befall you. Many of the attitudes in this story ring horrifyingly true, as little more than an extreme magnification of the objectification and sexualisation that occurs in our society.

The novel touches on issues such as eating disorders and other compulsive behaviors, mass conditioning and the repression of individual feelings, intellect and self-expression. These issues are explored in an environment populated by social media platforms, disturbingly similar to the ones members of modern society use to carefully construct the lives and selves they wish to convey to others. The context is a post-apocalyptic attempt to 'save' the human race, and the detailed world-building is fantastic, gradually layered from the ground up with no walls of explanatory text but also no confusion about what is going on.

None of the characters are particularly likeable except maybe Darwin (what a name!), the #1 boy who takes an interest in Frieda. I've heard this unlikeability noted as a criticism against the book, but this is basically Mean Girls in a world where your life depends on aesthetically being the in the top third of your year. I actually felt the girls fantastically represented a variety of reactions to the pressures of such a society, and most of them are extreme versions of women I have met in my lifetime (prone to manipulation, backstabbing, backhanded compliments, reluctantly conforming, turning a blind eye etc), which for me says so much about the conceptual relationship between the world of Only Ever Yours and the one we all know.

I have heard mixed responses to the shocking ending, and while I wish to give nothing away (much as I want to detail my praises of it), I will say that I think the ending is spectacular. I could barely breath for the last few pages; the sheer panic and desperation of trying to survive such a wretched world made me feel trapped and claustrophobic. The ending is nothing short of haunting, and will stay with me for some time. Genuinely a very important book that should be read by all young women who are emotionally mature enough for its content.

Rating: 5/5

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