Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

In a dystopian future world, women are created in order to meet the needs of men. Frieda and Isabel are aged sixteen and they are waiting to be, hopefully, chosen as companions for boys their age who live out in the real world. If they are not chosen as companions they will end up as concubines so it is important that they look perfect, dress perfect and act perfect. In fact that is what they have been brought up to do. But when only ten girls out of the thirty in your group will be chosen as companions, competition is rife. The girls are ruled by their need to be better than their peers but also to ingratiate themselves with the more beautiful in their group. As Frieda struggles with the pressure, Isabel seems to be distancing herself, almost cutting herself off. Things become even more stressful when the ten boys turn up to chose their companions.

This is not just a dystopian novel – the book shines a spotlight on how girls can be obsessed with their looks, their age, their weight, their clothes – in effect their image. The need to look good in order to find a good partner for life leads to betrayal of friendships and unkindness. The men in the book control society but they are shown as weak and just as culpable in the way they look at the girls and the way they want to sleep with them but still want a ‘pure’ girl to marry. It makes for uncomfortable and compulsive reading. The world in this book might be a make believe dystopian one, but the behaviour portrayed, whilst extreme, has elements that are likely to ring true with readers. I did not expect to like this book; I thought I had had my fill of dystopia. However, it was different; it intrigued me and I found myself enjoying it and was completely invested in it – enough to still be thinking over the ending as I write this.

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