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.
Only Ever Yours is The Handmaid’s Tale on steroids (almost literally). This is dystopian fiction at its awful best – O’Neill has created a suffocatingly plausible post-apocalypse world showing humanity at its worst.
We spend the novel in the last year at a school full of young women with nothing to co-operate about and everything to compete for, where the only asset that will benefit them in their coming futures is their looks, which are judged on a daily basis and managed medically if they fall short of requirements.
O’Neill’s creation is powerful and brilliant. It would be wrong to describe Only Ever Yours as easy to read, but the writing took me effortlessly into freida’s world, and trapped inside frieda’s head was a less than comfortable place to be as the pressures of trying to be perfect and please everyone take their toll. Ultimately, it’s a story of survival in a world where only the strong will survive – and no one has bothered to breed robustness into the females.
I closed the book with a deep breath and a glance out of the window to reassure myself the world I’d just left wasn’t real. I do recommend you to read this book – but only when you’re feeling strong.
Shortlisted for the YA book prize – and I wish it luck.