I purchased Only Ever Yours after it won the YA Book Prize. It was one of the few books on the shortlist that I didn’t already own or hadn’t read, but it was one everyone was talking about.
Louise O’Neill describes Only Ever Yours as The Handmaid’s Tale meets Mean Girls. It is startlingly, painfully real. I’ve read a lot of young adult dystopian fiction and I’ve been reluctant to think of Only Ever Yours as ‘dystopian’ – it’s more ‘speculative’. Even though our society doesn’t mirror freida and isabel’s exactly, if you break it down and deconstruct every judgement, expectation and attitude that the girl’s are subject to, we’re almost already there.
freida and isabel are two of many girls waiting to see whether they will be selected to be wives to wealthy, powerful men and go on to bear his sons. They have grown up in a school that teaches girls how to be pretty and, in the near future, will progress into one of three career paths: companions, concubines or chastities. They don’t get to choose which. Popularity comes with being the most beautiful and the girls are ranked based on how they look and how thin they are. Eating disorders are encouraged and the girls are given opportunities to judge each other constantly. In one particularly dark scene, a girl stands naked in front of the class while improvements from her fellow students are thrown at her. Every time you think Only Ever Yours couldn’t possibly get any more bleak, it does.
Only Ever Yours is a dazzling, well-crafted feminist satire. It all unfolds when isabel can no longer live up to what society wants her to be and we watch as frieda struggles to deal with what she thinks she ought to do and what she feels is right. It’ll make you angry, shocked and outraged – and you’ll want to tell everyone.
Asking For It is Louise O’Neill’s upcoming book, about eighteen-year-old Emma O’Donovan, who is raped at a friend’s party. It is a much-needed novel and will likely be even more difficult to read than Only Ever Yours…
Published: 3rd July 2014 (UK) 12th May 2015 (US)