Book Review: Only Ever Yours (Louise O’Neill)

Publisher: Quercus

Pages: 392

Release Date: July 3rd 2014

Summary (From Goodreads):

frieda 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 remain perfect becomes almost unbearable. isabel starts to self-destruct, putting her beauty – her only asset – in peril.

And then, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride.

frieda must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known..

Review:

I have literally just finished this book and am reeling from it, so this will probably be less review and more a splurge of my feelings on a page.

Last night Only Ever Yours won the first YA Book Prize (very much deserved) and so I bumped it straight to the top of my TBR, after finishing Say Her Name which was also shortlisted.

There’s so much to love about this book I just don’t know where to start. I think what really captivated me was the little details that helped to bring the world to life: the fact that all the eve’s names weren’t capitalised (freida, isabel) but the boy’s names are, as well as the Father having all the His and Hes capitalised. The grammar nazi inside me was irritated at first, but then so was the feminist in me. I think it’s a great example of how the book gets its message across. Even the way it’s printed tells you how women are inferior.

The idea of perfection is constantly shoved down your throat – in a good way! – and it felt like such a reflection of real life, just a little more exaggerated. I’m sick of magazines that point out some women who are too fat and others who are too thin, who tell you to be an independent women and then give you fifty tips on how to ‘please your man’. That’s real life and it’s ridiculous, so the ideas in this book really didn’t feel too far fetched to me.

The behaviour of the boys – the Inheritants – really disgusted me in their attitudes. I found myself excusing them because they’ve been raised to believe women are there to pleasure them and give them sons, but I still hated them and couldn’t forgive them for not questioning it, or having more respect. The relationship that developed with Darwin felt organic – no insta-love here, and no pesky love triangles either – and the way things turned out (trying not to do spoilers!) really packed a punch.

To criticise – difficult because I loved it – I’d say it could be a little triggering. There’s a lot of focus on weight and being too fat, restrictive diets and use of laxatives and ipecac, and for people who may have struggled with weight issues in the past, it does tread a little close to the line.

freida makes a very good narrator with refreshing honesty and flaws – maybe not as many flaws as she thinks she has (especially the physical ones) but it’s always great to have a protagonist who isn’t perfect. freida gets jealous and has nasty thoughts about the other eves, but it all seems so natural as that’s the way they have been designed and brought up. The idea of constant competition and comparison was exhausting: there’s always someone who’s better than you in something, and it felt like playing a game nobody could win.

I liked that frieda was the focus of the story rather than isabel: it could easily have followed isabel instead as the ‘special’ one, but instead we see her story from the sideline and focus on a normal eve, which, in such a strange new world, is probably even more interesting.

The ending definitely surprised me. I didn’t know where it was going at all and I raced through to get to the end. It might not be a satisfying ending for some: it’s definitely not a happy one, and not really even a bitter-sweet, which is normally what I enjoy. I felt a little deflated afterwards, but in the best way, because any happily ever after would have felt out of place.

This book hit me like a tight fist and totally took my breath away. It’s a genuine must-read for anyone and will likely convert a lot of nay-sayers to YA fiction. It’s dark, disturbing and powerful and I want to read it all over again already.

My Verdict:

Copy of an art exhibit

Check out my soundtrack for Only Ever Yours here.