The chastities keep asking me why I can’t sleep.
When all you’ve ever known is competing against your fellow classmates for rankings and striving for aesthetic perfection in order to graduate with a companion status – what do you do when what you’ve ever wanted may not be quite what you thought? frieda and isabel have been best friends ever since they were hatched and have spent their entire school lives perfecting and preparing themselves to be chosen as a companion. In a world where women exist only for the pleasures of men, beauty is their first duty and they must obey.
First let me say how effective this cover is. I love the Barbieness of it – the girl in the spotlight whilst the blackness surrounding her, it’s so striking! It expertly reflects O’Neill’s rich narrative by balancing both the shininess of appearance and the darkness of looking beyond. Louise O’Neill’s award-winning debut Only Ever Yours combines a strong hark back to the classic The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood yet brings a freshness and realistic view of modern teenage issues. The premise is a fantastic arena to discuss the modern world’s obsession with appearance and the naivety and social-climbing nature of frieda means that she is the perfect vessel in which to explore this uncomfortable world.
I found myself appalled at some of the lengths the girls are encouraged to take in order to find aesthetic perfection and yet on O’Neill’s dystopian school isn’t actually a million miles away from the pressure put on all of us on looks and appearance by the media today. Whilst O’Neill’s general focus is on the all-too-familiar judgement of girls externally as well as between each other, she also hints at the expectation of men for, despite their relative freedom, there is a masculine performance being asked of them as well. Women are beautiful but vapid commodities and men are perfect providers to be worshipped – now where have we heard that before…?!
I loved the rawness of this book, the sarcastic witticisms and clever allusions to modern pop culture but mostly I loved the way it made me want to discuss the issues within it. Only Ever Yours makes you think, not only of the 1950s stereotypes women are still trying to shake off but also of the pressures they now face in world of continuous media and how this affects their outlook, demeanour and emotional state. It offers a different and deeper perspective of the world and of the threats to childhood at the hands of the ever-present teenage pressure that is very real today. For in a world where the women are beautiful and the men are perfect, is there any room for ‘normal’ or does it just become synonymous with not good enough? Read Only Ever Yours and join the conversation!