This weekend I engrossed myself in the Young Adult novel Only Ever Yours, by Louise O’Neill, which I stumbled across in my local library.
Only Ever Yours strikes you, at first, as another dystopia-based YA novel, but when you get down to the basic premise, it feels more like a YA version of the Handmaid’s Tale than just another YA series.
The main character, Freida, is in her last year at school. But this school is slightly different. This school trains girls to become either Companions (wives of the men who run the post-apocalyptic land of Euro-Zone and thus bare their sons), Concubines, who fulfil the men’s sexual needs, or Chastities, the women who run the schools. There are 30 girls in Freida’s year and only 10 Inheritants – the boys who need Companions – so inevitably 20 of the girls are destined to be a Concubine or a Chastity.
Freida longs to become a Companion. To achieve her dream she must keep her weight down, eat well, look beautiful, work out and above anything else, impress the boys who are to choose their wives this year. Adding to the pressure, Freida’s best friend Isabel has been acting suspiciously. She hasn’t been seen all summer, she’s putting on weight and is being excused from all kinds of lessons and tasks: what is happening with her? Freida drops from #3 place in the class to #10, meaning she has to work extra hard to impress the boys…and still she’s worrying about Isabel.
The novel follows Freida’s journey into adulthood, in a world that has been irreparably changed and regards women as vehicles for either reproduction or pleasure.
What I Thought
As I mentioned, I read this in two days, it really was gripping. But before I begin, a few words of caution. Although a Young Adult novel, Only Ever Yours is perhaps inappropriate for younger teens. As well as tackling some tough issues such as sexism and sexuality, Only Ever Yours also contains reference to (and depictions of): anorexic tendencies, bulimia, sex and self harm/suicide.
That’s not to say O’Neill doesn’t handle these issues with prowess, she does. She is also a beautiful descriptive author. The whole novel is set within the confines of the girls’ school, a palace of mirrors and functionality; O’Neill creates a familiar setting where you will feel both at home and completely trapped.
The eventual conclusion of the novel is the only trepidation I have in recommending Only Ever Yours to young adults. Freida is by no means a strong female role model but she is the voice in the head of the reader and bearing that in mind when writing YA fiction is an important consideration – how should I end this? What will the reader be feeling after the conclusion? How will it affect their lives? Nevertheless, for those more mature readers I would throughly recommend Only Ever Yours as an introduction into psychological thrillers.
In a Sentence
Only Ever Yours challenges what you thought you knew about YA fiction by taking the idea of the future and twisting it in a terrifying and beautiful way.
Star Rating: 4 / 5