‘Only Ever Yours’ by Louise O’Neill: Are you a perfect girl?

When you think of a girl, what is the first thing you think of?

Maybe she’s pretty. She has freckles and a good laugh. She has certain habits and different tastes, talents that you don’t possess. Maybe she’s smarter than you, and you don’t like it. What if you could make your own perfect girl, the kind that was taught to never disappoint or to never say no? The kind that was only ever yours?

This is the kind of book that has very little to laugh about.

Louise O’Neill’s ‘Only Ever Yours’ homes in on a world where girls are no longer born naturally, but bred artificially. They are trained from an early age at ‘The School’, an institution which promotes rivalry between the girls over their looks, what they eat and how they dress. The book starts on the countdown towards their Graduation, where only a handful of the best girls will be picked by their future husbands for breeding purposes only until they are no longer useful. Those that are not picked face an even bleaker future as concubines or the restricted life of a teacher at The School.

The story takes place through the eyes of Frieda, a girl who is known to be one of the more appealing girls in school who is always consistent in her looks. For some reason, she cannot sleep; her best friend Isabel starts to distance herself from the other girls, gaining weight and disappearing for days on end. Frieda is caught between her loyalty to her only true friend and her own survival if she is to be picked for graduation. With or without her.

This is a terrible and wonderful book in that it doesn’t shy away from ugliness of the mentality that the characters are either trying to promote or to achieve; that lust and beauty are the only things worth achieving for themselves and for each other. O’Neill does a wonderful job of showing the cutthroat nature of women. This kind of brutality also bleeds into her other book ‘Asking for it’, which deals with rape and victim blaming. Its no surprise that ‘Only Ever Yours’ has been republished as both adult and YA fiction.

Aside from the particularly vicious plot, one of my favourite things about this books is the realness of the characters. Louise O’Neill tends to write characters who fall in the grey, both true and full of faults. Both Frieda from ‘Only Ever Yours’, and Emma O’Donovan, the main character from ‘Asking for it’, are similar in the sense that they try to be someone that they aren’t in order to survive. Frieda struggles with feelings of jealousy, anger and the will to succeed while struggling to help her friend that is seemingly blocked from her grasp. There were times when I was embarrassingly reminded of my own teenage self as well as many other teenage girls, both clueless, compassionate and downright mean.

I haven’t read a book in a while that seems to perfectly capture a real teenage girls voice in an impossible, dystopian world. Not a Katniss Everdeen, but maybe the girl across your street, the girl you know from school. If you’re looking for something that is thrilling, relentless and nauseating, I think this might just be your cup of tea. Otherwise, just remember –

I am a good girl. I am appealing to others. I am always agreeable.

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