Monday 1 February 2016

ONLY EVER YOURS by Louise O'Neill

When women are created for the pleasure of men, beauty is the first duty of every girl. 

Freida and Isabel have been best friends their whole lives. Now, aged sixteen and in their final year at the School, they expect to be selected as companions - wives to wealthy and powerful men. 

 The alternative - life as a concubine - is too horrible to contemplate. 

But as the intensity of the final year takes hold, the pressure to be perfect mounts. Isabel starts to self-destruct, putting her beauty - her only asset - in peril. 

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...

The premise of this book is as eerily disturbing as the cover. And the reason why I'm tagging this book as horror. It might not fit into the horror genre, but the world, events, and conclusion are as terrifying as any knife-wielding maniac lurking in the shadows.

In a world where women are actually created (and not born) for only three reasons--to become companions, concubines or chastities--girls all live and attend schools where they are constantly reminded about how important their physical qualities are. Actually, not only are looks the only real value they have, but they are constantly rated against each other. And every single one of them knows that they have an expiration date.

Pathetic messages are taught in these schools. Things like 'Being pretty is all that matters', 'Personality does not matter', 'Good girls don't cry', 'I always do as I am told'... They also attend classes called Comparison Studies, Calorie Calculations, and the super creepy Organized Recreation Space. Truly awful things that are supposed to prepare them for the man-pleasing Zones they will enter after the Ceremony, where their only purpose will be to satisfy men either as wives or whores.

The competition between the girls is brutal, and of course creates a lot of bitchy friction. Behaviour that pits the girls against each other and creates a bully mentality where you either join them or become their target. freida and isabel have been best friends most of their lives, and isabel has been ranked #1 for a long time. That's given freida a few perks that the other girls haven't enjoyed. But now isabel is acting secretive and has started putting on weight, so when her ranking starts to slide and the other girls stop respecting her, freida is caught in the middle and must choose an ally.

Outwardly, freida is always willing to go with the crowd to feed the ego of her peers, but inwardly she sounds different. She doesn't agree with putting other girls down and certainly doesn't enjoy shunning others. Her mind is full of thoughts that set her apart from the other girls, but she knows that she can't express any of them. Otherwise, how will she ever become a companion? Especially now that the handsome son of a judge has taken a special interest in her...

Wow. This book is powerful. It's also infuriating. Terrifying. Bleak. Bitchy. Horrible. And amazing! It's hard to make one story so magnificent and horrid at the same time, but Louise O'Neill has definitely managed to do just that. This frightening little book reveals a morbid vision of the future, where women are nothing more than tools used to please men.

The most terrifying thing about this book might be the realisation that there are probably men in this world who would love to have a society like this one.


Asides from the obvious theme of female control, there's also a very strong story about friendship.

freida and megan have been friends for a very long time but megan has been hiding a huge secret from her friend, one that freida mistakes for pushing her away. When in fact, it's the opposite. megan might be referred to as special by the chastities and the other girls, but she considers herself far from that. Her fate was sealed at creation and she loved her friend so much that she wanted to make sure she didn't get caught up in it. But in turn, she unknowingly pushes freida to become friends with a mean girl--megan--who ultimately manipulates freida into ruining every chance her real friend fought to get her.

The toxic environment in which these children are raised creates such a brutal arena breeding deception, betrayal, and self-acceptance seen through the eyes of false compliments. Until the narrator of this story only cares about being liked by others to the point of almost losing her mind. Not to mention what happens when a man--the only reason they were created in the first place--rejects her.

This is such a sad story. 

Only Ever Yours is a hellish one-way trip down the highway of misery. It's a screwed-up worst-case scenario of just how scary and disturbing the world can become when a woman's worth in society is purely judged on looks and her ability to please a man or give birth to one. There are a lot of powerful messages in this story about self-worth, beauty, expectations and failing to be yourself because you're encouraged not to be.

From the outside it seems as if freida ultimately betrays her best friend. But in the end, I believe she actually ends up betraying herself.

If you're looking for a HEA, don't look here. Either way, I really (really) enjoyed this book.

Only Ever Yours, August 2014, 9781848664159, Quercus

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