Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

I recently read Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill. I wrote a review, enjoy.

This is a dystopian novel about a world where women are no longer born, they’re made in pods, raised in a school to become perfect wives. They are constantly rated on a scale and the theory is that the top ten list will automatically become wives, or companions, to the ten boys that hit maturity that year. The book centers on freida, a girl in her last year at school. She used to be best friends with isabel, who was consistently rated #1 up until this point, but then the unspeakable happened: isabel started putting on weight. The book follows freida in her last year as they come closer to being wives and as boys are introduced.

I really liked it. I feel like liked is the wrong word, because a lot of it made me feel almost physically ill, but it was really interesting.

It’s very reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale. The girls aren’t allowed to read, and don’t know how. They’re not even allowed capital letters in their names. They are raised with one goal, they’re meant to be pretty, goal weight, and they shall be attractive to their husbands. Everything they are is connected to men, their only purpose is to be attractive and attentive to men.

I liked how it was written. It’s a sort of Mean Girls on steroids. The girls are in constant competition with each other, but they are also everything they have, so they’re trying to be friends. They try to use their connections and friendships to destroy each other and get ahead.

I liked the way freida and isabel’s relationship developed. I feel like it’s normal in all friendships when you’re that age for you to sort of meet bumps and problems, and it’s no wonder that in the environment they’re in it gets amped up to such an insane level.

I found it interesting that isabel could get so angry with freida for not understanding her when isabel made no attempt to explain her change to her best friend. Obviously freida doesn’t really behave very well, basically selling isabel out to gain advantages. On the other hand freida tries again and again to help isabel and get her to open up and she refuses. isabel also has a point, they’re taught from a very young age to be perfect and stab each other in the back, and how would freida ever overcome this programming? And still isabel condemns freida when she does what she is programmed to do.

I was impressed that when O’Neill introduced the boys they are exactly as disgusting as you would imagine. They’ve been raised in a world that tells them they are perfect and they deserve women and that they deserve to treat them as though they are possessions. I also liked that she didn’t shy away from that. The main boy, Darwin, is les horrendous than the other boys. He’s kind and sweet at times, but he is still a product of the world he has been raised in and even though he’s kind he still sees the girls as playthings and something he deserves, which I thought was very true to form. Obviously I feel sort of sorry for him at times, because of… reasons, but still, he’s a prick.

I was impressed with how it dealt with the desperation the girls feel and how far they’re willing to go and how they’re trapped in their world. They have to look perfect. They have to entice the boys, but not go too far because that would make them into sluts and they won’t be made wives. They have to work hard on completely menial tasks, and stab each other in the back and still seem wonderful and sweet.

I felt like it dragged on a bit. There was a lot of the same for a while and it bugged me a bit. I feel like it could have been trimmed down a bit. I still gave it four stars because the ending broke my heart, made me cry and made me want to wrap freida up in my arms and tell her it would be okay.

It felt incredibly real. It’s sort of gender differences and archaic gender roles taken to an uncomfortable extreme. Girls starve themselves and look perfect, men have to be manly men and they’re given everything and it makes them awful. It’s sad and it’s horrible and it made me really angry.

I should also say I think this book is probably quite triggering if you have an eating disorder, so you know, take that into account.

I liked it, it was amazing. It was fascinating, and I definitely want to read O’Neill’s next book.