For every book we read during the book club, we’ll write a review so that anyone who couldn’t be there can still join in with the fun! Saskia den Ouden is our YA book club reviewer, judging all the books we read.
Only Ever Yours is set in a future where the polar caps have melted and there are only a few bastions of human civilization left. The girls in this society are placed in a School, to be raised with the idea that they need to reach physical perfection. The book follows freida in her last year of the school. At the end there will be a ceremony where she will either become a companion (or wife) to one of the sons of the nation, a concubine or a chastity (one of the ladies that runs the school. The teachers, nurses, cooks, etc.). Before this year, she had a best friend in isabel, but for some inexplicable she has started pulling away from freida and as the blurb says, is starting to self destruct. Her biggest asset, her beauty, is in danger because of this.
On the surface the book is very shallow. I didn’t really get a taste of the relationship freida and isabel had before the start. I know what kind of clothes all the important characters wear, but not what their favorite movie is or what they’re thinking. I know that it’s terrible that isabel has gotten fat, but not why that’s so bad. Although secretly I do know why it’s bad. I know why it’s bad, because when I was 16 I was also fat and it made me feel like no one would ever love me.
That is the genius of this book. Through subtle and not so subtle details O’Neill holds up a mirror that enhances all the bad and warped parts of the female culture in western society. The girls in this book, who should be allies, are only competing to be the prettiest and best girl in the school. Being ‘academic’ is bad. Feminism is the new F-word.The girls are discouraged from watching nature documentaries, painting it as something that is really something that children do. freida hangs her self worth on the judgement of others. She does it so much that she almost lacks a personality. Does this sound familiar?
This book is not a fun read. It has a few light moments, but mostly it is a study of girls crammed into a mold. If you’re a girl reading this, you will (probably) feel bad about yourself. You will feel uncomfortable. But it is important, because it puts all our implicit standards about female beauty in a very stark light for a Comparison Study.