“You may have been perfectly designed, but there is always ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT.”
This terrifying utterance by the ‘Father of the Euro Zone’ in Louise O’Neill’s excellent young adult novel Only Ever Yours will be with me forever. Only Ever Yours paints the picture of a post-apocalyptic world in which women are not born — only genetically engineered to be the perfect companions of ‘Inheritants,’ the boys the same age who will someday run their world. Called eves, none of the girls have names that are capitalized and are kept in a school until they are sixteen, at which point the Inheritants show up and the girls compete to be chosen as their companions; the rest are destined to be either concubines, who take care of the sexual pleasures of the men of their zone, or chastities, doomed to remain at the school forever to teach the next generations of eves.
At the open of the story, we find frieda, an eve in her final year, confused and hurt by her friend isabel’s sudden rejection both of her and everything they’ve learned at school. In fact, frieda blames isabel for her complete self-destruction from top-ranked beauty to listless and uncaring, thinking that isabel is just not controlling herself and that she needs to remember why she exists: to be beautiful and willing. frieda spends the book torn between her loyalty to her friend and her need to survive and come out on top in order to be chosen by an Inheritant as his companion.
Though this book takes place in a dystopian future, there are many elements that those today, especially girls, will find disturbingly familiar. O’Neill does a masterful job creating a society that mirrors our own in disturbing and extreme ways, and the result is a stomach-churning depiction of something that hits just too close to home. Things that people, especially women, experience in high school: the bullying for looking different, policing of norms by classmates, stress on appearance over intellectual interest, and the pressure to put male-female romantic relationships over friendships suddenly find themselves magnified a thousand-fold into a terrifying place where convincing a boy to marry you is literally a matter of life and death.
Only Ever Yours kept me up all night, first because I couldn’t stop reading once I’d started and second because I had to digest everything I’d read. This is not a happy book, but it is riveting and alarming in equal measures, and I’ve been unable to keep myself from talking about it for days. Fans of dystopias, especially those of Margaret Atwood, will definitely appreciate this tale.
You can put Only Ever Yours on hold in our catalog. While you’re waiting, be sure to check out “You Might Also Like These …” at the bottom of the book’s page for more reading suggestions!