My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Only Ever Yours was a book that I hadn’t heard of before I attended YALC. Then I was bombarded with praise for this book – including a full page spread in the YALC flyer – and within 48 hours I was on the tube to Foyles on Charing Cross Road to get myself a copy.
This is a debut novel which has won both the YA book prize and the Sunday Independent Newspaper Novel of the Year. It’s got to be good, right?
The novel revolves around Freida, who attends a school which trains women to go into one of three professions: companions (the perfect wife for a man of high standing), concubines, or chastities (teachers at the school). Freida, and her best friend, Isabel, are two of the most highly rated girls at the school, and surely destined for roles as companions… until Isabel distances herself during their final year and puts on weight. The novel details the last year of their schooling, including the arrival of the ten future husbands eager to choose a wife (and the destinies of these girls).
The girls have all been bred for sex, and independent thought is discouraged. They all have eating disorders. Essentially the girls in the book are all the same, with minor physical tweaks to make them differentiable. A slight problem here is that there are a lot of characters, of which only a small minority undergo any character development. The worthlessness of these girls is reinforced throughout the novel, to the point where the women aren’t even deserving of a capital letter in their name (a really poignant stylistic choice).
It’s depressing but it’s also brilliantly written and thought-provoking. This is the kind of book which you hate, but you understand why it’s been written how it’s written and the point it’s trying to make. The ending is inspired (and definitely worth the read), and even though it’s a little abrupt, it’s also perfect.
I would recommend this book, if not only because it isn’t a rehash of every other YA novel on the market. It has important things to say regarding the way society works today and the impossible beauty standards girls aspire to. It depicts realistic sex, it talks about periods and it discusses homosexuality (and its eradication in this world so that all women serve men). Those are topics which are completely relevant in YA but which hardly ever feature – and it’s important that they DO feature. The main heartbreak in the novel is one between friends, which is often way more relatable than having your heart broken by the most perfect guy/vampire/werewolf/alien on the planet.
After this brilliant debut, I can’t wait for Louise O’Neill’s second novel, Asking For It, which, refreshingly, isn’t a sequel. (Hooray for a stand-alone YA novel!)