Saturday, 20 June 2015

LBOY2015 Shortlist Review #3: 'Only Ever Yours' by Louise O'Neill

'Only Ever Yours' by Louise O'Neill
Review by Sarah Nuttall


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...


Only Ever Yours is the debut novel of the talented Louise O’Neill. A satirical novel on society’s obsession with female beauty and the pursuit for physical perfection, it was well received by the YA community as well as being shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and winning the inaugural YA Book Prize.

freida and isabel have been best friends their whole lives; born from the same batch of eves they are genetically engineered women designed to be the right standard of physical beauty and perfection. Along with their sister eves for twelve years they have attended The School awaiting the day of The Ceremony, the day were they will finally discover which role they will receive on leaving school – companion, concubine or chastity. The greatest of these is the companion; a role which allows the eve to be owned by a husband and the possibility of having sons. Next, are the concubines; designed for sexual pleasure. And lastly, is the common chastity; remaining at the school to develop the future generations of eves to attain their futures. The chastities teach the eves the rules; be pretty; do as you’re told; don’t be different; and don’t break the rules. They eves are drugged with pills to help them sleep and keep their weight within target. Their classes revolve around learning skills that men will find useful and critiquing the beauty and weight of their fellow eves. The pressure is immense and when the boys arrive to claim their brides the eves descend into the final rounds of their high pressure game of "'win or lose"; for this is what they were designed for; this is why they were made. 

I was absolutely floored the first time I read Only Ever Yours and having read it a second time it still has had a strong emotional effect on me. Although the story is fiction, it comes from such an honest core, using our society’s obsession with physical beauty so that it offers more of a reflection on modern society that, on the surface, may resemble a standard YA dystopian novel. The eves are trained to analyse, critique and manipulate each other all in the name of beauty and by conforming to one type of beauty, the eves are faceless; mere clones encouraged to have no personality. The eves viciously attack each other’s physicality; the eves with the highest beauty rankings setting the standards and implementing a self-perpetual cycle that cannot be broken. The onslaught is relentless.

Social media and TV offer no reprieve to the eves; instead, it is used to reflect back to them the standards and ideals they must achieve. It’s a frightening parable but one which will resonate with most. Who amongst us hasn’t witnessed someone’s physicality described negatively? Hasn’t seen a magazine label a woman too skinny, too fat, or simply labelled a bitch? Read a description of a woman’s age and beauty rather than her profession achievements? A mere glance on the internet can bring up the worst and nastiest comments from faceless commentators, with users hounded off social media by taunts of weight, beauty or accusations of stupidity. The most popular cosmetic surgeries across the world are breast augmentation, nasal surgery and eyelid surgery as women across the world alter their faces and bodies to achieve one goal. Butt implants are the fasting growing surgery. It’s a vicious onslaught and although it’s a personal choice and, for some, surgery may have a positive life change, perhaps some would feel happier with their perceived imperfections if there were more standards of beauty than what’s currently reflected.

The desire for physical perfection is summed up perfectly by O’Neill. The standards don’t make our eves happier or healthier, indeed they make them less so; physically and spirituality they are stupid, dull, insipid and mean. The eves are constantly pulling each other down but are never content or happy. Indeed, our happiest characters are those that have accepted themselves and their bodies. It’s a positive and much needed message and one I hope younger women will see and champion because there is beauty in everyone and to deny your beauty to fulfil another’s standard is a loss to the world.

Only Ever Yours is a truly remarkable book, not only for its positive messages, but for introducing us to the wonderful O’Neill who I’m sure will continue to create wonderful books and interesting books. For a debut author, her writing is exceptional; great dialogue, complex and interesting characters and an uncanny ability to understand and connect with her characters. I understood the motivations and could empathise with the characters in the book; from isabel’s attempt at defiance to freida’s overwhelming desire to be a companion; megan’s drive to be Number One and Darwin’s confusion at the eves' interlocking love/hate relationships. A truly wonderful book and one that deserves to be in every school library.  

Rating: 5/5 Stars  ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Sarah Nuttall

Sarah is an active contributor for the YAfictionados blog site. She has written posts for the Waterstones blog and has worked as a bookseller (for 9 years), a Children's bookseller (for 6 years) and is now a manager at her local bookstore. Needless to say, Sarah is a valued member of the YAfictionados team - a true Children's and YA literature expert.

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