Having been someone who has never really got into the ‘Young Adult (YA)’ scene, I was pleasantly surprised to read a book aimed at a younger audience that struck a chord with me. The book itself is ‘Only Ever Yours’ by Louise O’ Neill. The novel itself explores a society of controlled women from childhood.
In all honestly, if it wasn’t for my university setting it as compulsory reading I wouldn’t have touched it. In a bookshop I would have walked right past it and not looked back. However, upon closer inspection of the novel I was intrigued at the plastic looking Barbie and the tagline, ‘be good, be pretty, be chosen.’
So I read the book. And then read it again. I was hooked and I wished so badly that it had been published when I was at an age of being just introduced to the concept of feminism. It was so refreshing to see a distinctly satirical feminist novel stylised in the format of a novel fit for younger audiences. So if you’re young and wanting to engage with feminism then this is for you.
The novel will make you angry. Afraid. At times I cried. Cried for the characters but also cried for women everywhere in a book that highlighted a society’s hostile relationship with the female form. The novel also engages with issues such as race and sexual identity and trust me, it only amplifies the horror you feel for the ‘eves’ in the novel.
In a future dystopian society of submissive and docile wives created for the sole purpose of being a man’s companion, women’s only function is to abide by the tagline I mentioned above ‘be good, be pretty, be chosen.’
The women have limited destinies. In order to survive they have to fit into three. All of this is decided by young men. It is the story of an unchallenged patriarchy and it is terrifying. The most desired destiny is to be a ‘companion’ whose sole function is to be that: a man’s companion. She must comply with the needs of man to the fullest extent and reproduce as much as possible. In order to survive she must be submissive and passive. The second most desired destiny for women is to be the ‘concubine’ which is essentially a sex object to pander to the men’s voyeurism. Those are the only respectable and wanted options for a woman.
The designed ‘eves’ are conditioned at an early age up until the age of sixteen until their destiny is decided for them at ‘The School.’ They are drugged and conditioned frequently, both in their sleep and awake by the ‘chastities’ that run the school. All lessons are focused on being pretty and submissive and to ultimately control their ‘female hysteria.’ Eves Intelligence, wit and opinions are criticised and threatened: “Chastity-ruth says thinking too much robs you of your beauty. No man will ever want a companion who thinks too much.” Weight gain and weight loss are controlled. The Eves are encouraged to pick each other apart in a competition for women that begins at the age of four and never ends.
The most frightening thing about this novel is its potential to be true. In a society obsessed with the female body, this satirical novel may be more than just a reflection. We might just be getting a warning.
TW: This novels contains a number of trigger warnings including anorexia, bulimia, and more. If you’d like to know more and/or need to talk then please don’t hesitate to get in contact with me and I’ll give you more information about the novel.