Louise O’Neill quickly became one of my favourite authors after reading her novels Asking for It and The Surface Breaks and so I was thrilled that her debut novel, Only Ever Yours, did not disappoint.
The book is told from the perspective of Frieda, an eve entering her final year at school and struggling to hold up under the pressure to be perfect in order to be chosen as a companion. The book follows Frieda’s desperate attempts to remain ranked in the top 10 eves whilst her friendship with Isabel, who is buckling under the pressure, slowly fractures.
O’Neill writes with an intelligent severity that creates a world in which you can find nothing good and yet cannot stop reading. She generates a hope for a happy ending that you ultimately know is never possible.
She beautifully creates female characters so far removed from the heroines we so often seen that are kind, pure and, above all, good. In all her books, O’Neill focuses on young women trapped by their flaws of selfishness or jealousy, generated by a society that tells them that their value is limited to their beauty.
However, what is truly remarkable about her novels, is that despite the lack of likeable qualities she gives her characters, O’Neill never fails to make you sympathise with them because of the trauma they experience.
I will admit that at the start this was my least favourite of O’Neill’s novels, however this could have easily been because it was the first YA novel I’ve read in a while and so it took me slightly longer to get used to writing style or it may have been because this was her first novel, either way after a few chapters I was thoroughly engrossed in the book.
Frieda’s desperation and intense loneliness is beautifully conveyed, but what is truly fascinating is how convincingly O’Neill creates a world in which it is true that no cares about her. In contrast to our world where the response people with a state of mind like Frieda’s is to tell the individual how loved they are and to help them see their own worth, as eve every fear of Frieda’s is constantly reinforced for her. In this world it is true that no one really cares what happens to her, except Isabel, and it is true that worth is solely found in her appearance.
I would describe this book as being somewhere between Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. As the reader you are thrust into an unknown dystopian world reminiscent of Atwood’s novel, but the YA style and teenage protagonists feel closer to Collins’ trilogy. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone looking for a YA novel with overtly dark edge to it.