Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill – review

Pressure, pressure, pressure.

Once in a while comes a book that you know is important, even as you read it.

Irish author and recent winner of the inaugural YA Book Prize Louise O’Neill has written a visceral account of a world in which girls are controlled and judged, purely on the basis of their looks alone.   Independent thought is frowned upon, or more accurately, unacceptable and dangerous.   The perfect figure is all that matters.

Sound familiar?   Well that’s probably because O’Neill may as well be writing about our world, right now.

In Only Ever Yours, the ‘eves,’ specifically engineered female teenagers are bred for the purpose of becoming a ‘companion’ to the all-powerful men, or a concubine to serve their desires.   Their whole lives are geared towards these eventualities.   To ‘achieve’ this, the young women attending the ‘School’ must adhere to strict diets, exercise and even mind control.

Inevitably the pressure of the ‘School’ weighs heavily on all the girls.   The girls are ranked each week and as in any society, some are meaner than others to their peers, which is encouraged by the chastities, who run the school.   Competition is fostered and is necessary to secure one’s place in the rankings.

Freida, the main character, could be the embodiment of any teenager in modern society.   Relentless comments about appearance, thinly-veiled insults, endless photos on social network ‘MyFace’ as well as mirrors almost covering the ‘School’ mean that one ‘wrong’ step can destroy Freida’s confidence.   She has been taught that her looks and being a ‘good girl’ are all that matters.

Ms O’Neill’s writing is relentless.   The reader grows claustrophobic as they enter Freida’s mind.   The dialogue-heavy scenes reveal the intense pressure on every facet of the girls’ lives.   Conversations are inane and meaningless, but it is everything to one of the eves to be able to contribute praise or put another down, all to help in rising through the rankings.

Social media sites like ‘MyFace,’ an obsession with a reality tv show about the Carmichaels and games like ‘Your Face or Mine’ are all so close to the bone in terms of our own society.

Only Ever Yours is a cutting commentary on society, and a just-enough skewed reflection of what society is, or more accurately, where society is headed, given the increasing obsession with the superficial in the age of technology.

I’m Derek and I have a thing for books.


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