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Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill (includes SPOILERS)

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BEWARE - THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS THREAD, FOLLOWING THE TWO REVIEWS
I originally posted this review on my book thread, but after a spoilertastic discussion in Noll's book thread, and with others planning to read the book, I thought I'd set up a separate thread where we could discuss some of the issues and plot lines in the book without having to put everything in spoiler tags.


Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill
 
Synopsis (from waterstones.com):
freida and isabel have been best friends their whole lives. 
Now, aged sixteen and in their final year at the School, they expect to be selected as companions - wives to wealthy and powerful men. The alternative - life as a concubine - is too horrible to contemplate. 
But as the intensity of the final year takes hold, the pressure to remain perfect becomes almost unbearable. isabel starts to self-destruct, putting her beauty - her only asset - in peril. 
And then, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride. 
freida must fight for her future - even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known...
 
Shortlisted for the Best Fiction for Teens category of the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize 2015
 
Review:
If you're looking for dystopian, this is it, and blimey, is it bleak.  The book is set at the School, and freida the main character is sixteen and in her final year.  But this is not an ordinary school.  In a world where girls are no longer conceived and born, females a genetically engineered and then raised by the "chastities" in the school, where they are required to aspire to perfection, and their weight and condition is constantly monitored, and the outside world ranks them according to attractiveness.  Sound bleak enough yet?  Wait … it gets worse.  At the end of their final year, the girls will either be chosen by a boy to be married in order to produce male heirs, or become a concubine or a chastity.  Their names start with a lower case letter as they are lesser than men.  Their lifespan is forty years, when they go on the pyre.
 
As you follow freida's story, you see the parallels between how girls today face the constant pressure about their image, bombarded with photoshopped pictures of unachievable perfection.  As the story unfolds, the oppression of the women gets more and more suffocating, and it gets bleaker and bleaker.  And I know I've used that word before, but it's really the only word that can describe this book.  That's not to say it's not compelling - I found it difficult to put down - but it's so awful to read what's happening, and the little details (like the uncapitalised names) that aren't necessarily explained, add to the oppression of the women in this society, and which as a reader you can see but the characters in their sheltered lives have no idea about.
 
Having said all that, there is so much about the issue of food and weight, but nothing to explain why it's wrong for that to be the focus of your life, and no alternative for the reader to consider.  But it's still such a fascinating read, I wouldn't stop me recommending it.  A very dark read, and left me with a desperate hope that all girls today have someone in their lives to tell them their worth is not based on their looks.

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I'll add my review for the sake of including my basic opinions:

 

Review:  Unapologetically harrowing, Only Ever Yours is a roller coaster of psychological and social horror that starts at ground level and plunges down into the depths of despair. I'm not going to try to convince anyone that this is an easy read, but it is a worthwhile one. Imagine a society which subverts women and renders them as literally nothing more than lab-grown, son-bearing or desire-fulfilling slaves to men. Imagine being a woman raised in this society, where being 'academic' is among the worst insults for you, and being fat is the most life-altering disaster that can befall you. Many of the attitudes in this story ring horrifyingly true, as little more than an extreme magnification of the objectification and sexualisation that occurs in our society.

The novel touches on issues such as eating disorders and other compulsive behaviors, mass conditioning and the repression of individual feelings, intellect and self-expression. These issues are explored in an environment populated by social media platforms, disturbingly similar to the ones members of modern society use to carefully construct the lives and selves they wish to convey to others. The context is a post-apocalyptic attempt to 'save' the human race, and the detailed world-building is fantastic, gradually layered from the ground up with no walls of explanatory text but also no confusion about what is going on.

None of the characters are particularly likeable except maybe Darwin (what a name!), the #1 boy who takes an interest in Frieda. I've heard this unlikeability noted as a criticism against the book, but this is basically Mean Girls in a world where your life depends on aesthetically being the in the top third of your year. I actually felt the girls fantastically represented a variety of reactions to the pressures of such a society, and most of them are extreme versions of women I have met in my lifetime (prone to manipulation, backstabbing, backhanded compliments, reluctantly conforming, turning a blind eye etc), which for me says so much about the conceptual relationship between the world of Only Ever Yours and the one we all know. I am taking one mark off because I found some of Freida's pivotal actions to be a little uncharacteristic towards the end - I can't elaborate due to spoilers, but it felt a tad like her actions were forced to bring about the desired ending. I'm also not sure why anyone would feel it was in humanity's best interest to eradicate any surviving animal life when the apocalypse came, but maybe I missed something. Apart from a few little niggles, however, it's brilliantly written.

I have heard mixed responses to the genuinely shocking ending, and while I wish to give nothing away (much as I want to detail my praises of it), I will say that I think the ending is spectacular. I could barely breath for the last few pages; the sheer panic and desperation of trying to survive such a wretched world made me feel trapped and claustrophobic. The ending is nothing short of haunting, and will stay with me for some time. Genuinely a very important book that should be read by all young women who are emotionally mature enough for its content.

Rating: 4/5

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Ok, I've just finished, and I need to process it all, but here's a superficial question.

 

What is a chick-chick?

 

In the book, one of the characters

was eating one, and as they opened their mouth, freida could see the chick-chick reforming, with it's bones soldifying, until it was chewed up again. Blech! :icon_eek: Is it like some kind of 'live food'? 

 

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My assumption was that all the food was synthetic, so I'm assuming chick-chick was some sort of synthesised chicken.  Sounds revolting.

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I've just started it. Noll and Claire, would you be able to paste over some of the comments/discussions from your reading thread to here? :)

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This is copied from Noll's book blog, but with spoiler tags removed, and was in response to Noll's review which is also in this thread, near the top of the page :)
 
Because you only see the wider society through the eyes of the girls at school and the occasional comment from Darwin, do you think there were any protesters or resistance to the way women were being treated?  I kept hoping that someone would come forward and give me a little piece of hope, but at the end of it, suicide was the only option isabel had to escape from her enforced future.
 
 

I'm also not sure why anyone would feel it was in humanity's best interest to eradicate any surviving animal life when the apocalypse came, but maybe I missed something.

 
No, I don't think you missed anything. I also assumed that all the food was synthesised, so it was relatable but not what we would know as food, but if there were no animals at all, what was the food synthesised from? No meat or dairy, so if it was organic in origin, was it all from vegetable matter? But if that was the case, again, why were the other animals on the planet wiped out? Maybe I've got it wrong, and perhaps it was just the school that was sealed, but I got the impression that the outside world was a no-go zone and that everyone else lived within sealed compounds or underground, again implying that you couldn't grow vegetation outside, so was it all done with artificial environments?

Although you obviously can't have a sequel with the frieda and isabel, I keep thinking I want to know more about the world outside the school, and wonder what would happen if a girl was conceived instead of a boy at some point.

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Noll's response is copied from her book blog:  :)
 

1.
Because you only see the wider society through the eyes of the girls at school and the occasional comment from Darwin, do you think there were any protesters or resistance to the way women were being treated?  I kept hoping that someone would come forward and give me a little piece of hope, but at the end of it, suicide was the only option isabel had to escape from her enforced future.
 
 
2. 
No, I don't think you missed anything. I also assumed that all the food was synthesised, so it was relatable but not what we would know as food, but if there were no animals at all, what was the food synthesised from? No meat or dairy, so if it was organic in origin, was it all from vegetable matter? But if that was the case, again, why were the other animals on the planet wiped out? Maybe I've got it wrong, and perhaps it was just the school that was sealed, but I got the impression that the outside world was a no-go zone and that everyone else lived within sealed compounds or underground, again implying that you couldn't grow vegetation outside, so was it all done with artificial environments?

3.
Although you obviously can't have a sequel with the frieda and isabel, I keep thinking I want to know more about the world outside the school, and wonder what would happen if a girl was conceived instead of a boy at some point.

 
1. Hmmm. I'm not sure, because it seems the only women who get out of the school are ones that have been fully conditioned. Although, if Frieda had acted the way I expected (calm and collected until she was outside with Darwin), then she might have gone all Jennifer Lawrence on everyone. That was actually the ending I expected, and was actually delighted I didn't get. Other girls might have done that - clearly the gay couple made it out but were ultimately killed. So maybe there's a resistance faction in hiding, or something? That would be pretty cool and I'd imagine the power of even a small faction would be magnified in a small remnant civilization. I also like the idea that there are young men like Darwin who naturally have an aversion to the treatment of women.
 
2. There didn't seem to be anything organic at all in the school, remember even the plants 'outside' when the girls had their late night meeting were plastic. God only knows what the food was synthesized from! Must be a futuristic thing, like replicators in Star Trek :D Although I'm pretty sure even replicators need the original organic patterns of food to create it... I dunno!
 
3. YES! My only disappointment with the ending of the book was that the world-building was so excellent within the context of the school, that I would LOVE to see what the author could come up with outside the school - I'd love to learn about the living conditions of companions and concubines, the sort of work that men do, what sort of governance prevails in the outside world etc. I would really love there to be a sequel. I find it unlikely a girl would survive birth in that society, but if she managed it she could easily become a key figure in a second novel.
 
Additionally: I thought the way Freida betrayed Darwin was very unbelieveable. All she had to do was be quiet and take the mockery for a couple more weeks and she probably would have been free, and after 16 years of living in that environment, I feel like she could have held out, knowing freedom was so close. But it did bring about an epic ending, so I'm willing to let it go.

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My response copied from Noll's book blog:

 

Re your additional point:

I don't think it was too unbelievable, because it was always a precarious situation, in that she had no guarantee that Darwin would pick her, especially after she knew his father didn't want him to pick her (and maybe she did unconsciously put two and two together which his broken arm) and her lack of self esteem as a result of dropping in the ratings at the beginning of the year, she was constantly felt on a knife edge. After seemingly losing the friendship of isabel, she must have had no trust in anyone, so I don't think she ever really believed she was safe and that Darwin would choose her, even after all the Seventh Heaven(? - can't remember if that was what they called it, and I don't have the book to hand) encounters.

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Noll's response is copied from her book blog:

Heavenly Seventy  :D  Yeeeeaahhh but being in Megan's good books wasn't going to change anything. The ratings were irrelevant, Darwin was literally her own hope. Sure, he wasn't a huge hope, but a better horse to bet on than Megan. I can actually understand her pleading with him, and thinking about it - that still would have brought about the same ending so betraying him to Megan didn't seem to do anything except make Freida less likeable. I dunno, it just felt a bit forced to me. Also why did Isabel gain all that weight? Was she trying to stop herself being selected for the Father? And did she then distance herself from Freida as a result of that to avoid bringing down Frieda's reputation? That was what I took from it, but wasn't entirely sure I was getting it right  :blush2:

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My response copied from Noll's book blog:

My reading of isabel's situation was that she's a fifteen year old girl who's just been sexually assaulted and physically abused by the Father who must have been a fairly old man who relished his power over women, and as the chastity said at the end, he'd left her in a bad way. I think gaining weight was perhaps a way of showing she still had some control over her own body, or perhaps she had just lost all self respect and she used food as the only comfort she could get. Distancing herself from frieda was because if she kept the friendship going, she knew was supposed to keep her selection for the father a secret and she couldn't face frieda without wanting to tell her what had happened to her - not only because it was a secret, but because she now knew what their futures held for them after school was over and it was too horrific to reveal.

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I hope I've copied them across ok, and it makes sense who the original poster was.  I know a few others are reading the book, or planning to, so I'm sure we'll get some more discussion soon.

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Because you only see the wider society through the eyes of the girls at school and the occasional comment from Darwin, do you think there were any protesters or resistance to the way women were being treated?  I kept hoping that someone would come forward and give me a little piece of hope, but at the end of it, suicide was the only option isabel had to escape from her enforced future.

I wouldn't have thought there were any protestors, because of how conditioned everyone had become to the way women were viewed. They wouldn't have known any different. I don't know how much time had passed since The Noah Project....if it was decades or centuries....but if no-one is around who was alive since before The Noah Project, then this is the only way of life they know, and so it's "normal" to them. And perhaps anyone who thought differently would have been fished out as an "aberrant" and dealt with Underground. So, actually, there were probably many protesters in the beginning, but not anymore.....they (the women at least) would have been "designed" to not have those kinds of thoughts.

 

I'm also not sure why anyone would feel it was in humanity's best interest to eradicate any surviving animal life when the apocalypse came, but maybe I missed something.

 

The book says: "They got rid of anything that would weigh us down", so maybe it was literally down to a lack of space. Humans were seen as the priority, and if there was no room for anything else, then it got left behind.

 

Maybe I've got it wrong, and perhaps it was just the school that was sealed, but I got the impression that the outside world was a no-go zone and that everyone else lived within sealed compounds or underground, again implying that you couldn't grow vegetation outside, so was it all done with artificial environments?

 

Although you obviously can't have a sequel with the frieda and isabel, I keep thinking I want to know more about the world outside the school, and wonder what would happen if a girl was conceived instead of a boy at some point.

 

I would also love to know about the outside world, and how those people live. I don't think much information was given about that (or maybe I missed them, which happens a lot :P ).

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A few random thoughts..

 

I think everyone was in a sealed environment - I believe at one point Darwin mentioned people going out protected, for very short periods?

 

I also don't think there would have been any protesters, but I did wonder why Darwin was so nice, and seemed to questioning things a little. He was so controlled by his father, and yet he could see things weren't that great.

 

I loved both aspects to the ending. I had seen a spoiler that someone killed themselves, but I expected it to be frieda - so it was a shock when I read that it was isabel.. I literally felt my breath stop and a pain in my chest! It was probably the speed in which the revelations came.. everything seemed to be easy for isabel, but then we realise why, and what she's been through... and then we hear she's killed herself. So heartbreaking.

 

frieda's ending was good too, as you find out just how chilling 'Underground' is. In fact, I loved the fact that Louise didn't go for a happier ending - this one needed to be bleak, as it makes the whole story and all the issues make an impact.

 

Noll, having looked at your interview, I looked up Steuebenville case she mentioned, and it's so shocking - I think her next book will be traumatic as well. 

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I wouldn't have thought there were any protestors, because of how conditioned everyone had become to the way women were viewed. They wouldn't have known any different. I don't know how much time had passed since The Noah Project....if it was decades or centuries....but if no-one is around who was alive since before The Noah Project, then this is the only way of life they know, and so it's "normal" to them. And perhaps anyone who thought differently would have been fished out as an "aberrant" and dealt with Underground. So, actually, there were probably many protesters in the beginning, but not anymore.....they (the women at least) would have been "designed" to not have those kinds of thoughts.

 

 

My only issue with this is, as Michelle says, Darwin clearly doesn't fit that mould. He was clearly disturbed by the treatment of women, despite having a father in such a powerful position who clearly imposed his beliefs on Darwin quite forcefully. That was what, to me, suggested the idea of there being protestors or even resistence groups outside.

 

I heard about the Steubenville case when it happened, Michelle, absolutely appalling. It's going to make for a very controversial read. I like that it's going to be set in Ireland, I'm a fan of Irish authors actually setting stuff here.

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I wouldn't have thought there were any protestors, because of how conditioned everyone had become to the way women were viewed. They wouldn't have known any different. I don't know how much time had passed since The Noah Project....if it was decades or centuries....but if no-one is around who was alive since before The Noah Project, then this is the only way of life they know, and so it's "normal" to them. And perhaps anyone who thought differently would have been fished out as an "aberrant" and dealt with Underground. So, actually, there were probably many protesters in the beginning, but not anymore.....they (the women at least) would have been "designed" to not have those kinds of thoughts.

I got the impression that the Father originated the programme, and that it was within his lifetime, and the girls in frieda's class were in the 600 numbers, so assuming 20-30 per year, I would assume that the cloning programme had only been running for 30 years at the most. It's difficult to judge really, as there isn't enough information about the rest of the society, let alone the rest of the world (other regions are mentioned but that's it), but I think I just desperately wanted to believe that we couldn't become that oppressed, and that while there was no hope for this class of girls, that there might be a glimmer in the future. 

 

I would also love to know about the outside world, and how those people live. I don't think much information was given about that (or maybe I missed them, which happens a lot :P ).

I don't think you missed it at all, there were a few glimpses of the outside world through the television/media, the occasional comments from the boys, and the odd mention of other regions (I think I remember some mention of a Chinese or Asia region, and also an American region), but that's about it.

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I also don't think there would have been any protesters, but I did wonder why Darwin was so nice, and seemed to questioning things a little. He was so controlled by his father, and yet he could see things weren't that great.

I think it was Darwin's attitude that made me wonder where this came from in him … whether it was just the experience of the way he saw women treated, or whether someone he'd had contact with had planted seeds of doubt in his mind, or perhaps he'd found some underground type of media, like a pirate television station or something. I guess it's just my desperate hope that the humanity in all of us would come through in some way, and stop or rail against the oppression.

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I think ultimately humanity would. I don't think the conditioning of any society like that is ever going to crush the natural empathy in all human beings, just like I don't think it does in any societies that exist in the modern world. There are always going to be a few rebels - even if we don't have it in ourselves to be the rebels, we all have it in us to hope for better, and that's why we love fictional stories where people do stand up and take their freedom back. So I think ultimately it would work out in that world, too.

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Have you ever read Only Ever Yours? If so I am interested to know you thoughts on the book. 

 

There are many strong themes in the novel which may cause controversy. I want to know your thoughts on 'The Father,' 'The eves' and the potential thirds they could be entered into (companion, concubine, chastity). 

 

At a glance it may not be clear the book is an example of feminism with the author Louise O'Neil a feminist herself. I am interested to see your thoughts on this. 

 

Another aspect of the novel which greatly intrigues me is what would happen to all of the eves after the book. What do you think would happen to those who have become companions and concubines? And also what would happen to freida? I would like to think that there would be an underground organistion planning to over throw the Father - however this then could take away from the book. 

 

The ending? What were your thoughts? 

 

I want to know all! 

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Nope, I don't think we need to worry about that this time - more likely to be help for homework. We gave the poster the benefit of the doubt, but she hasn't responded to us, so we'll probably just remove ths soon.

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i'd also like to add to the idea of a growing resistance. For instance, they talk about how concubines and companions are kept separate but that during the talk show they were brought together because of the ratings the amniosity generated - in this case forced interaction.

 

BUT how about when Darwin slips a package to chastity magdalena from Cecily?? we find out at the end that it is his mother - the Judges wife that is sending the packages. A companiom messaging a chastity? perhaps they were friends when they were Eves or even lovers?

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