Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill
Choose a girl… to own forever.
In Only Ever Yours, Louise O’Neill creates a future where women are valueless. Baby girls are so unwanted that the body rejects female foetuses, and instead, girls are created in labs. New batches of baby ‘Eves’ are created each year, churned out, named after famous beauties (Cara, Naomi, Agyness) and carted into ‘school’ to learn all they must know. And what they must know is not a lot. How to choose an outfit, how to pose for a flattering picture, how to refuse fat-people food, how to suppress your emotions, how to be placid; these are the lessons taught to the girls. Their purpose is simply to please men.
Everything is building up towards their 16th year when they will finally learn their destiny. In O’Neill’s future, one of three futures lies in wait for the girls: to become a Companion, a coveted role in which you get to become a trophy wife, birthing sons until you hit the ripe age of 40, at which point you will be terminated lest wrinkles start to appear; a Concubine, which is exactly how it sounds; or a Chastity, the unfortunate group of women who are deemed to be undesirable to men so must spend their lives teaching the next generations of Eves to do better. The girls future is in the hands of 16-year-old boys who will judge them and decide their fate in a matter of weeks.
We follow one Eve, Freida as she struggles to cope with the pressure of this. Her best friend, Isobel has always been the highest ranking Eve, until suddenly she withdraws, loses interest in competing with the other Eves and leaves Freida rudderless. Without the support of Isobel she feels unable to cope with the frightening level of expectation and begins to lose her grip on her sanity.
In short, I loved this book. I would liken it to a cross between Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale for Millennials. Alongside an engaging storyline, Only Ever Yours provides a cutting look at young women’s places in our current society by intensifying current norms. For example, the Eves are accepting of a reality TV show star beating his companion because she obviously stepped out of line, and besides, he’s hot (Chris Brown fans anyone?). The thought of being made to take a photo for their social media without a full face of make up induces panic and down-voting from the anonymous boys judging them. And the word “feminist” is literally the worst thing you can call someone.
I would really recommend this book to anyone. As it’s YA it’s easily digestible (even if some of the ideas explored in the book are very unpalatable) and is a good introduction to feminist dystopian novels.