I found the preview of this novel on my Kindle, with seriously no idea how it got there. Apparently past me requested it, or Amazon’s just started sended me dystopian feminist novels because Big Data is always watching.
In the beginning of Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours, girls are raised in a school where they’re taught to be compliant and attractive, in constant competition for the day when they’ll be selected as Companions or Concubines by the young male Inheritants.
Well, that’s about all I can say without giving away the ending, so consider this your spoiler warning.
When the story opens, frieda is oddly resistant to the sleeping pills, so she’s awake to hear the subliminal messages all the girls receive, about being good girls, pleasing and compliant and likeable. (I mean, we hear these messages all the time, but are we awake to them?) I worried that this resistance and wakefulness was setting us up for another book about a horrible dystopia for everyone, except one Very Special protagonist, but the actual outcome was so much worse.
The eves are unable to ask questions or get meaningful advice, since they’re in competition with each other, and their entire class is in competition with the younger, newer models of the younger classes of eves. There are no older classes, since all eves become either Companions, Concubines, or the caretakers of the eves, Chastities. Intentional competition for men — since 3 eves are created for each boy born — prevents eves from forming any meaningful female friendships.
freida’s closest friend is isobel, but when the story opens, isobel is mysteriously porking up from seconds and thirds at the FatGirl buffet (an option provided at every meal, so that girls can see and smell delicious food before choosing their low-fat, no-carb options, the better to keep them constantly focused on food and consumption.) We learn, towards the end of the book, that the reason isobel is exempt from rankings and competition is that she’s already been selected by an important citizen, who decided to sample his purchase on her sixteenth birthday.
Among the spoiled teenage boys selecting their mates, Darwin has less acne and less entitlement that the rest, making him a total catch. He selects frieda, time after time, for each of the organized dating activities, and it looks like he’ll choose her for his Companion.
I thought poor frieda’s expectations that Darwin’s love would save her was a sign that this dystopian novel was slipping into teen romance territory. This is it! His love will save her! They can live happily in the system, because they’re together, or they can escape the whole thing together!
But Darwin is also a product of this world. He knows he’ll always have eves catering to him — he’ll choose from the most attractive and compliant eves for his Companion, and he can always get any and all sexual needs met by Concubines — so when one of them ever gets uncomfortably emotional and even weird… Darwin backs off and reports frieda in a terribly teenage way. He is, after all, just a privileged teenage boy confronted with unpleasant emotions and needs.
And the dystopia works. Not for everyone-except-the-protagonist, it works for everyone. An eve who isn’t pleasing and accommodating has just a few possible outcomes, and we discover at the very end that frieda isn’t special. There’s no way out of the roles for eves. I actually had to Google the ending to make sure I hadn’t missed anything uplifting.