Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

Dystopian novel Only Ever Yours looked to be everything I love in YA fiction and more. I should have loved it but I guess appearances can be deceiving…

In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful.

For the girls left behind, the future – as a concubine or a teacher – is grim.

I really wanted to love Only Ever Yours. Like so many of us, I have a soft spot for YA fiction that features a post-dystopian landscape and I was hoping to be able to shelve this on the same level as The Hunger Games. Unfortunately, Only Ever Yours proved to be a little frustrating and completely unsuitable for me.

I know this is a well loved book and I know that many people who read Only Ever Yours find it extremely chilling and effecting, however, if you have read and enjoyed science fiction novels such as Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty Four or A Handmaid’s Tale (the Margaret Attwood classic that I’m fairly certain is the inspiration for Only Ever Yours) then I would suggest giving it a very wide berth.

I can’t possibly talk about everything I disliked about this book so I will whittle it down to my main issues. Science fiction is very much a genre about subtlety; even in worlds completely removed from our own, such as Winston Smith’s in Nineteen Eighty Four, the actions of the characters and government often seem removed yet believablewhich is why it’s so scary. Only Ever Yours, on the other hand, had so many blatant links to our own society (they’re obsessed with their epads and a social media site called MyFace, a girl called Cara is known for having thick & bushy brows and they love a show about a family called the Carmichaels whose names all begin with C) that I was cringing pretty much throughout.

The ending was by far the worst part for me. Science fiction often has unexpected and unwanted endings that are the exact opposite to our wishes but will leave us quivering with how unarguably appropriate and good they were. Only Ever Yours tries to do this but fails miserably, leaving you with an ending that is only frustrating and completely unsatisfying; Freida, the poor protagonist, is continually beaten down throughout the novel far more than is necessary for us to sympathise with her and the way it all finishes? You genuinely might as well not read it.

One final thing I want to briefly mention is the disapproving way the author looks own on social media and seems to suggest we’re all heading to unrelenting vanity. I know many writers are making this point at the moment but, given that #OnlyEverYours sits proudly on the back cover, I find this hilarious.

I know some people can take offense when I give a book a particularly scathing review but please don’t take this as a personal attack. I can see why some will enjoy this light step into science fiction and it genuinely will be the darkest book they have read but for me it was utterly sub par compared to the standard I’m used to.

In my humble opinion this book was a complete waste of paper but I wholeheartedly recommend anyone looking for something similar read The Handmaid’s Tale. Only Ever Yours was a brilliant idea that was simply poorly executed.

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