Review for Only Ever Yours by Louise O'neill!
Quick View Review:
Characters: **** (2.5/5)
Plot: **** (4.5/5)
Writing Quality: ***** (5/5)
Amazon Rating: **** (4/5)
At the School, beauty is duty. Girls are created for the pleasure of men. They don’t have identities; they are designed by genetic engineers, are not born naturally, and are assigned a design number. They are raised in this School until their seventeenth birthday; ridiculous mantras are bored into their minds over and over: “fat girls are obsolete”, “good girls don’t cry”, “nobody likes an angry girl”, and many, many more.
Considered two of the most perfect girls at the School, freida and isabel have been inseparable for all sixteen years of their lives.
Now sixteen and in their last year at the School, the two friends are confident that they will become “companions”, wives to the powerful men of their society. The alternative is to spend their lives as concubines or chastities - two possibilities they don’t even want to think about.
But as the competitiveness of final year starts to unfold, the pressure to remain perfect has simply become too much. isabel starts to self-destruct, ruining the beauty that she has worked so hard for her entire life to preserve. Confused by gorgeous isabel’s mysterious change of behavior, freida is left without a best friend, but decides that she isn’t going to let isabel destroy her chance at a future, even if that means betraying the only true friend she’s ever known.
That’s when the boys arrive. Ten of them, ready to seal the fate of each girl. Will frieda achieve her goal of being a companion, or will she be doomed to become a concubine - or worse, a chastity?
This is not a book that was meant to be enjoyed (it WAS NOT light), but that didn’t stop it from being incredible. It was definitely memorable if anything. The girls in this book are encouraged to hate themselves and be more “perfect”, even though they had all been designed to be perfect already. They hate on each other behind the anonymity of their screens to hide their insecurities, they disguise cruel criticism as helpful advice, judging is something that you do publicly with your friends, they are encouraged to starve themselves if they are above “target weight” (115-118 pounds), and they are constantly tempted by the “Fatgirl Buffet” (if they get food from there they are considered weak and are made fun of). Women in this society don’t have identities, emphasized by the fact that their names are not capitalized and that they are often called by their design number. It’s a multiplied version of today’s bullying, yet it’s really not that far from reality in that these girls are cruel and catty, and they are never good enough for themselves.
At first, freida REALLY annoyed me. I had a really hard time sympathizing with her and feeling bad for her because her concerns and worries just seemed so ridiculous. But as you get more into the book, you realize that there really is no other option for these girls; worrying about their beauty is how they were brought up, it’s all they know. So I did begin to understand freida’s feelings, and it was really hard to not pity her when her situation kept worsening. She constantly tried so hard to do what was right but never felt it was enough; for example, she went to ridiculous and unimaginable measures to please and be liked by the girl who had been consistently voted #1 on the School’s beauty charts (I think she took it WAY too far), but she never managed to truly gain the girl’s respect. This also kind of tapped into my insecurities; I’m a perfectionist, and I know all too well the feeling of trying so hard to do something and yet still feeling like I’m never good enough.
I gave the characters 2.5/5 stars because I felt like they were mostly one-sided. Take megan (the queen bee #1 ranked girl) for example. She was constantly cruel, criticized everyone, and manipulated everyone around her. Sure, you could say that she was bullying everyone to hide her own fears and insecurities, but I think that even bullies show some emotion and kindness eventually. megan had feelings just like freida, and even though we were in freida’s mind, you could tell frieda was still showing her emotions most of the time. Not megan. Never did she say anything genuine or show any sign of vulnerability and weakness. I just thought that this was overly unrealistic, and I found myself constantly rooting for megan to show a softer side and really be nice. I was always disappointed. I mean, I guess given their situation, you could somewhat understand why the girls would be distrustful to each other, but you would think that even though all the girls were ridiculously competitive and insecure that there would be at least some close friendships, even in the “popular” group; and yes, we weren’t really exposed to anyone outside of this “popular” group, but you would think that the girls would want to take a break from their beauty contest and really talk. Point is: I thought that the characters were mostly unrealistic because most of them never showed genuine feelings and they didn’t have anything close to complex personalities.
I also really would have loved to hear isabel’s point of view. When I first read the back cover, I thought that I would be getting both girls’ opinions, but it turned out that we only got frieda’s side of the story. I feel like getting isabel’s views could have added a completely different element to the book. She was trying to escape the system and live her life her way, which was different from freida, who wholeheartedly depended on the system and the views of others to survive. I think that isabel would have been a more relatable character for people today, whereas, like I said earlier, it was really hard to relate to frieda’s struggles.
The author’s writing was amazing. Honestly, I wasn’t really paying attention to it as much as I usually do because the story was so thought-provoking on its own. One thing I did notice though was that the author did an incredible job of building up events - just when you thought that things couldn’t get worse or that you couldn’t get more disgusted with the ideals of the society, she would throw something new at you that would just put you in more shock.
Overall, I was pretty disgusted by the ideals and beliefs of the society in this book, but some aspects of it were just exaggerated replicas of today’s society. Again, this is not a book that was meant to be liked by readers, but it is still absolutely incredible and shocking. The ending left me totally stunned and feeling pain for both frieda and isabel. What bothered me most about the ending, though, was the other girls’ reactions and their indifference toward what happened (to find out what I mean you have to read it!). The characters were mostly unrealistic, but given their situation, it was pretty evident why they wouldn’t trust each other. I have never read a book like this one, so it’s hard for me to recommend it to a certain audience. Just definitely don’t read it if you are looking for a light and happy book, but if you're looking for something on the darker and deeper side then this is absolutely the book for you!
Sorry for the extra long review, but I didn’t even get to all the discussion topics this book has to offer!
Happy reading and make sure to come back next Wednesday for a new review!