When I closed the book on the last page of Only Ever Yours all I could do was sit there, dumbfounded. My eyes were wide, my mouth open, my breath held. I sat like that for about 10min and then promptly went to find someone to rant and rave to. I don’t think my boyfriend was quite as enthused as I was by the end of my rant, but I just couldn’t help myself. This book is amazing. Utterly amazing!
I discovered Only Ever Yours when Louise O’Neill won the Bookseller YA Prize in 2015. It wasn’t the award that caught my eye, but the description – “Mean Girls meets The Handmaid’s Tale.” How could you not be intrigued by that? And, can I just say, that was a damn accurate description.
In Only Ever Yours, girls are born for no other reason than to please men. They’re raised in boarding schools, away from all male contact, and taught how to be the perfect woman. Their future is made of three possibilities: companion, concubine, or chastity.
Being a companion is the highest honor. It’s the role of wife and the role that most girls strive for, yet only the best are chosen. The second option is concubine. They only exist to please men physically. The third is chastity. It’s the chastities who are the teachers, the guardians, and the guides for the girls as they go through school.
There’s a last option but it’s only spoken about in whispers. It’s the menacing threat that’s used to scare girls who don’t fit any of the three C’s. It’s the fate that awaits those who do not conform.
We meet the characters in their last year of high school. The year that will decide their fate. The year where they’re finally introduced to the opposite sex. Tensions are at their highest and girls at their bitchiest, competing for the top spot, competing for the attention of the upper class lads and knocking down any opposition that dares stand in their way.
The first thing I noticed in Only Ever Yours was the girls’ names. They weren’t capitalized. It was a subtle yet powerful addition that proved how little this world thinks of them. This is how O’Neill’s social critique begins and it just gets better from there.
Fat has been made obsolete; girls must be beautiful and keep their mouths shut. It’s an utterly terrifying concept. The girls spend their class time learning absolutely nothing of value. They take constant selfies and do nothing more than watch reality TV and worry about their weight, makeup, and their ranking on the beauty scale.
Kind heart? Ha, that’ll lead to being a chastity.
Only Ever Yours gave me quite a few high school flashbacks of the Mean Girls-like groups that haunted the school grounds with their heads held high, always looking down on people. Think of those people and then times them by 10, add in some good ol’ fashioned backstabbing and you’ll get the true feel of this book.
I realize that that may be off-putting, but I promise you, it isn’t. It actually makes the story more compelling.
I loved to hate these characters and I needed to find out what their fate would be. It’s scarily believable and it definitely made me remember all those horrid teenage feelings questioning whether I was pretty enough, funny enough, cool enough…which, is exactly O’Neill’s point.
After ranting about this book to another friend, I bought it for them even though they live overseas. I sent it straight to her door, because I knew she needed to read it. Only Ever Yours is just one of those books. It leaves a long-lasting imprint on your being, an imprint that’s just itching to be stamped on to others.