Author: Louise O’Neill
Book: Only Ever Yours
Book in series: 1 of 1
Release date: 3rd July 2014
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 – they are among the most highly rated girls in their year.
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.
If you are female or male, fifteen or fifty, you need to read this book. In most dystopias, you’re asked to imagine something that you probably won’t have experienced, so you have to create the feeling of the characters to be able to relate to them. This one is different. Set is a plausible future, Only Ever Yours discusses the issues of eating disorders, female objectification, a doomed society and media pressure – sound familiar? That’s because it is. Every moment of this book feels shockingly real and at no point did we feel that the characters were unbelievable or figments of an author’s imagination. In fact, you’ll see that we hardly ever mention them here simply because they don’t warrant criticism; they do exactly what they need to. The book starts off feeling like fairly familiar teen girl fiction due to the voice the protagonist is given – don’t let that fool you. O’Neill uses this in an amazingly skilled way to show there is true dystopian darkness driving the apparent care-free youngster.
Most readers should be able to relate to at least one aspect of this book, because as humans living in the society we live in, most of us have doubted ourselves or felt unworthy at some point in our lives – female, male, young or older. Every horrible, critical thought you’ve ever had about yourself is voiced by O’Neill in this book, echoing the inescapable reality you find outside the world that she’s created, and in the one we live in ourselves. Imagine having other people tell you that you look fat, ugly, laughable. Think of what it would be like to be measured, physically drawn on, told that you’re not thin enough, or that you’re too thin (after all, no boy wants a stick do they?)
If you or someone you know has ever suffered from anxiety or deprivation related to their body image, then this book is both reassuring and heart breaking. Reassuring because there are others out there – O’Neill describes the feeling of body image pressure unbelievably realistically which is also what makes it painful. Without once feeling preachy, it really opens your eyes to how huge this issue is and how it’s already a shocking reality. We were so relived (but also distraught) to finally find something that reaffirms the need to make self-acceptance a major part of young adulthood and show the need to stop putting pressure on young women (and men) to look, act and be a certain way – just because society says you should, it doesn’t mean that it is natural, right or something we should unquestioningly buy into.
This book has introduced us to an accessible form of feminism, what it increasingly means in modern culture. It’s not the extreme, “women over men” approach that the media seems to have projected over the years, but a move towards true equality where individuals are not objectified. This issue needs to be talked about openly and freely – it shouldn’t be up to authors like O’Neill to have to “controversially” bring up this issue – it shouldn’t even be “controversial” in the first place. This is a topic that needs to be discussed in schools with both boys and girls for our society to stand a chance at raising children who don’t feel judged by the size of their waist, or what they choose to eat at the canteen.
We felt so much emotion from reading this book (can you tell??), too much to list here. Ultimately, what we did feel at the end was numbness. It was a difficult read because it rang so true and because of the subject matter, not because of the book itself. Only Ever Yours creates the ultimate dystopia – one we are actually living through rather than a far-fetched fantasy. This book reaffirms the horror that we feel inside ourselves – the sheer feeling of never being good enough, of never being satisfied. This is one of the most defining books out there for young women and any one that is concerned about what is happening to them.