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ONLY EVER YOURS LOUISE O’NEILL Can you take every stereotypical cliché of female oppression, stir them all together vigorously and nonetheless somehow turn this dish of banality into a riveting work of fiction? Well, in case of Ms. O’Neill the answer is YES!!! When I first started reading this novel I thought it a bit vapid; this constant obsession with weight and appearance seemed rather monotonous. An all female boarding- school drama revolving around eating disorders and other, not quite unfamiliar, teenage afflictions. But soon I realized that by doing this the author is just setting the stage, preparing us to understand the psyche of the Heroine and the very intricacies of her tormented soul. This introductory part enables us to acknowledge the categories in which those young women perceive their surroundings and themselves, shows us the full extent of their psychological damage. In any case by page 50 I was definitely intrigued and fully immersed myself into the unraveling tale, torn between a mixture of fascination and horror. Even though the issues addressed here have been presented to us in one form or another countless times before, it’s placing this whole sordid scenario consisting of eating disorders, lacking self-esteem, bullying (cyber and direct), mean-girls-clubs and discrimination against women in a futuristic, utterly dystopian reality that gives those topics a completely new dimension despite their unquestionable relevance in contemporary society. Sometime in the future, after an apocalyptic destruction of the world as we know it (caused by global warming), the remaining humans form a community where women are genetically engineered for the sole purpose of serving men. They are very appropriately called eves, after the biblical first female created to accompany Adam. They are expected to be beautiful and obedient. Any independent thought among them is severely discouraged. They are brainwashed with a constant hammering of twisted values until those form the very essence of their existence. From a very early age they are shown porn films to learn how to physically gratify a man. They are taught everything about maintaining their appearance, keeping the house, but such basic skills as reading or writing are deemed unnecessary, dangerous even. These aspiring teenage Stepford wives are trained to fulfill male sexual fantasies and bear them sons (female babies are destroyed). The contempt the eves are treated with is demonstrated in every little aspect of their lives: even their names are spelled with lower case letters and menstruation has just become “womenstruation”, as it would be completely inconceivable to have the word “men” in something considered so dirty and shameful. So much for the premise, let’s just say that thanks to this novel the term misogynist has just acquired a whole new meaning! Enter freida and isabel, two best friends, each in their own way coping with the challenges of the final school year preparing the students to take on their roles as companions (equivalent of wife), concubines (prostitute) or chastities (nun), the only 3 “careers” available to girls. We witness how they both begin to self- destruct, how they are unable to deal with the pressure and degradation, the preposterous expectations and ultimately even with each other. The ominous educational establishment they are forced to attend until their 17th “design date” serves one purpose and one purpose only: to prepare the young women to be slaves to this patriarchal society (the leader is very suitably  addressed as “the Father”), and NEVER question any of the decisions or orders given to them by men. They are to always remain perfect, even though they are constantly confronted with the remainder that “there is always room for improvement”. Apparently even perfection is not perfect enough. The story becomes more and more sinister as we read on, inspiring an ever growing feeling of oppression.  It’s hard not to notice the many similarities with the Nazi regime repeatedly surfacing  throughout the novel, such as the fact that the girls are identified by numbers like  prisoners in concentration camps, they are also systematically starved to remain thin (thus attractive to their masters), the never ceasing hunger their constant companion. The elevation/survival of the fittest. Elimination of the ones who refuse to obey the rules. Medical experiments performed on those deemed genetically inferior. It all strikes a familiar, chilling chord. We can shake our heads in great wonder at the author’s dark vision and macabre imagination, however if we take a long hard look at our society a slight fear might begin to form in the pit of our stomach. The sad truth of the matter is namely hard to ignore: as women we are judged on our appearance a lot more than men. The lack of appealing physical attributes will not hinder males in becoming successful (well, unless they want to play the hunky Adonis roles in the movies maybe), but we are conditioned from a very early age that being fat is disgusting, we are bombarded with commercials advertising products that will make us more beautiful, more desirable.  And  to whom may I ask? Yes, to men, the ever present authority determining our self-worth! I am ashamed to admit that I am far from immune to this system of values. My whole life has been a struggle to keep my weight down, I am a veteran of a thousand diets, I exercise religiously and spend a fortunate on cosmetics. Louise O’Neill openly admitted to having battled anorexia for years. All this self-loathing, the drive to attain the unreachable standards and impossible beauty ideals could not come to our attention more poignantly (albeit at times perhaps in a slightly melodramatic way) than here, on the pages of Only Ever Yours. This is certainly not a light-hearted or uplifting story. Although it does contain some humoristic elements (mostly achieved by the use of sarcasm) and witty allusions to pop culture (I thought naming the “slutty” girls after Victoria’s Secret models was an especially hilarious touch, not to mention the incredibly dysfunctional casting and reality shows based on the ones currently broadcasted for the viewing pleasure of the more indiscriminate among us, only equipped with all kinds of deranged twists), overall it is not meant to be a laugh-out-loud, feel-good kind of book. But it will draw you in, it will accompany you long after you have put it down or even turned the last page.  Only Ever Yours certainly seems like a great reason to become a feminist if there ever was one!!! Because as Marilyn Monroe, the ultimate and immortal sex icon (and a lady so much smarter than ever given credit for) once said: “Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition”. In my humble opinion Ms. O’Neill has certainly enriched the YA Fiction genre with this daring, spectacular debut. Her very well written prose keeps the reader on edge with its mixture of sensitivity and brutality, taking us on a never ending roller coaster ride filled with sorrow and dismay. I would not be surprised in the least if we saw this novel made into a major motion picture sometime in the near future, following in the footsteps of The Hunger Games or Never Let Me Go. Highly recommended!
RATING     ****** excellent     ***** very good     ****good     *** average     ** pretty bad     * horrible
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ONLY EVER YOURS LOUISE O’NEILL Can you take every stereotypical cliché of female oppression, stir them all together vigorously and nonetheless somehow turn this dish of banality into a riveting work of fiction? Well, in case of Ms. O’Neill the answer is YES!!! When I first started reading this novel I thought it a bit vapid; this constant obsession with weight and appearance seemed rather monotonous. An all female boarding-school drama revolving around eating disorders and other, not quite unfamiliar, teenage afflictions. But soon I realized that by doing this the author is just setting the stage, preparing us to understand the psyche of the Heroine and the very intricacies of her tormented soul. This introductory part enables us to acknowledge the categories in which those young women perceive their surroundings and themselves, shows us the full extent of their psychological damage. In any case by page 50 I was definitely intrigued and fully immersed myself into the unraveling tale, torn between a mixture of fascination and horror. Even though the issues addressed here have been presented to us in one form or another countless times before, it’s placing this whole sordid scenario consisting of eating disorders, lacking self-esteem, bullying (cyber and direct), mean-girls-clubs and discrimination against women in a futuristic, utterly dystopian reality that gives those topics a completely new dimension despite their unquestionable relevance in contemporary society. Sometime in the future, after an apocalyptic destruction of the world as we know it (caused by global warming), the remaining humans form a community where women are genetically engineered for the sole purpose of serving men. They are very appropriately called eves, after the biblical first female created to accompany Adam. They are expected to be beautiful and obedient. Any independent thought among them is severely discouraged. They are brainwashed with a constant hammering of twisted values until those form the very essence of their existence. From a very early age they are shown porn films to learn how to physically gratify a man. They are taught everything about maintaining their appearance, keeping the house, but such basic skills as reading or writing are deemed unnecessary, dangerous even. These aspiring teenage Stepford wives are trained to fulfill male sexual fantasies and bear them sons (female babies are destroyed). The contempt the eves are treated with is demonstrated in every little aspect of their lives: even their names are spelled with lower case letters and menstruation has just become “womenstruation”, as it would be completely inconceivable to have the word “men” in something considered so dirty and shameful. So much for the premise, let’s just say that thanks to this novel the term misogynist has just acquired a whole new meaning! Enter freida and isabel, two best friends, each in their own way coping with the challenges of the final school year preparing the students to take on their roles as companions (equivalent of wife), concubines (prostitute) or chastities (nun), the only 3 “careers” available to girls. We witness how they both begin to self-destruct, how they are unable to deal with the pressure and degradation, the preposterous expectations and ultimately even with each other. The ominous educational establishment they are forced to attend until their 17th “design date” serves one purpose and one purpose only: to prepare the young women to be slaves to this patriarchal society (the leader is very suitably  addressed as “the Father”), and NEVER question any of the decisions or orders given to them by men. They are to always remain perfect, even though they are constantly confronted with the remainder that “there is always room for improvement”. Apparently even perfection is not perfect enough. The story becomes more and more sinister as we read on, inspiring an ever growing feeling of oppression.  It’s hard not to notice the many similarities with the Nazi regime repeatedly surfacing  throughout the novel, such as the fact that the girls are identified by numbers like  prisoners in concentration camps, they are also systematically starved to remain thin (thus attractive to their masters), the never ceasing hunger their constant companion. The elevation/survival of the fittest. Elimination of the ones who refuse to obey the rules. Medical experiments performed on those deemed genetically inferior. It all strikes a familiar, chilling chord. We can shake our heads in great wonder at the author’s dark vision and macabre imagination, however if we take a long hard look at our society a slight fear might begin to form in the pit of our stomach. The sad truth of the matter is namely hard to ignore: as women we are judged on our appearance a lot more than men. The lack of appealing physical attributes will not hinder males in becoming successful (well, unless they want to play the hunky Adonis roles in the movies maybe), but we are conditioned from a very early age that being fat is disgusting, we are bombarded with commercials advertising products that will make us more beautiful, more desirable.  And  to whom may I ask? Yes, to men, the ever present authority determining our self-worth! I am ashamed to admit that I am far from immune to this system of values. My whole life has been a struggle to keep my weight down, I am a veteran of a thousand diets, I exercise religiously and spend a fortunate on cosmetics. Louise O’Neill openly admitted to having battled anorexia for years. All this self-loathing, the drive to attain the unreachable standards and impossible beauty ideals could not come to our attention more poignantly (albeit at times perhaps in a slightly melodramatic way) than here, on the pages of Only Ever Yours. This is certainly not a light-hearted or uplifting story. Although it does contain some humoristic elements (mostly achieved by the use of sarcasm) and witty allusions to pop culture (I thought naming the “slutty” girls after Victoria’s Secret models was an especially hilarious touch, not to mention the incredibly dysfunctional casting and reality shows based on the ones currently broadcasted for the viewing pleasure of the more indiscriminate among us, only equipped with all kinds of deranged twists), overall it is not meant to be a laugh-out-loud, feel- good kind of book. But it will draw you in, it will accompany you long after you have put it down or even turned the last page.  Only Ever Yours certainly seems like a great reason to become a feminist if there ever was one!!! Because as Marilyn Monroe, the ultimate and immortal sex icon (and a lady so much smarter than ever given credit for) once said: “Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition”. In my humble opinion Ms. O’Neill has certainly enriched the YA Fiction genre with this daring, spectacular debut. Her very well written prose keeps the reader on edge with its mixture of sensitivity and brutality, taking us on a never ending roller coaster ride filled with sorrow and dismay. I would not be surprised in the least if we saw this novel made into a major motion picture sometime in the near future, following in the footsteps of The Hunger Games  or Never Let Me Go. Highly recommended!
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