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Book Review: Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill

Only Ever YoursTitle: Only Ever Yours
Author: Louise O'Neill
Series:  N/A
Pages:  390
Publisher: Quercus
Date of Publication: 3rd July 2014
Source: Library
Synopsis from Goodreads: 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. . .


My Thoughts:
So I haven't written a book review for months and months, but I finished Only Ever Yours this morning and I need to talk about it.  I haven't had as many emotions and thoughts from reading a book I think EVER, and I've never simultaneously hated and loved a book in quite the way that I did Only Ever Yours.  I first heard about the book when it won the YA Book Prize, but I was mid-exams and didn't have time to really think about it.  I picked it up by chance at the library and then I went to YALC, where Louise O'Neill was at the bloggers' brunch, and on a panel that I attended, and I decided that I should read it.

I'd been warned before reading that it would be incredibly depressing and that I should only read it when I was ready to have all joy ripped from me.  That is an accurate description of the novel!  Weirdly, it's so gripping and I couldn't put it down, but as I read more and more I just got angrier and angrier at the world in which these characters were growing up in.  In frieda's world, females are no longer born, they are designed for three purposes: a Companion to a male - his wife and mother of his sons; a Concubine - always willing to please the males in any way, shape, or form; or very rarely as a Chastity - dedicated to teaching new females how to best please males.

The world is horrific.  There is so much fat shaming and slut shaming and right from page 1, frieda, the main character, is plagued by thoughts of, 'I'm not good enough, I'm too fat, I'm not pretty enough, there is always room for Improvement'.  The girls are not even considered worthy of a capital letter at the beginning of their names.  At times, the pages were genuinely difficult to read, but then at the same time it's weird, because even despite the advances that feminism is making today, it still has such a long way to go which became clear to me as I read when I considered that a lot of the objectification and need for perfection that is displayed in the School in the novel was familiar to me.  I went to an all girls secondary school and I have experienced or been witness to some of the fat and slut shaming, and while it wasn't as bad as in the novel, it is easy to imagine it escalating and turning into that in other schools or in the future, as the pressure to be perfect only becomes greater.  Scary stuff!

It's hard to know what to say about a book like this, only that despite the difficulty of the subject matter, it is super readable.  I read the majority of it on busy trains, and although people were chatting and jostling about me, I was engrossed and only stopped reading when I had to alight.  I knew the ending was going to be bad yet I raced through the pages, eager to know what happened, and then once I finished, once my heart had been ripped out by hopelessness and defeat of the final pages, I just lay in my bed and stared at the wall for a bit, unable to think about anything else.  Sounds a bit silly but it's true!

I think you should read this book.  Maybe read it with a friend so you can talk about it as you go (I finished and went straight to Twitter) because I think it's an important read in today's world.  I don't really know what else to say to do it proper justice apart from it's thought-provoking, dark, and depressing, there's not a glimmer of hope and literally nothing is okay about it, but at the same time, it is probably one of the best young adult novels I have read this year.


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