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Literature / Only Ever Yours

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Only Ever Yours is a 2014 dystopian YA novel by Louise O'Neill.

In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful.

For the girls left behind, the future – as a concubine or a teacher – is grim.

Best friends Freida and Isabel are sure they’ll be chosen as companions – they are among the most highly rated girls in their year.

But as the intensity of final year takes hold, Isabel does the unthinkable and starts to put on weight. And then, into this sealed female environment, 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 ...

Only Ever Yours shows examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Most of the chastities humiliate the girls to some degree if they step out of line, but none of them are so bad as chastity ruth who, among other incidences, hangs Freida's bloody bedsheets outside her room for a week after her first 'womenstruation' to shame her and at the end takes this to the next level by sending Freida Underground to become a genetic testing subject after heartlessly telling her that Isabel has killed herself.
    • Darwin's dad is also this. "It was my fault" is something that crops up a lot with him.
  • All for Nothing:
    • Isabel agreed to go through with marrying the father, and maintain her "target weight", in order to prevent Freida being sent Underground. That happens anyway after Isabel dies.
    • A large part of the reason why Freida is so desperate to be chosen by Darwin is that she does not want to become a concubine. It's only after being disqualified from the Ceremony that she finds out she was Socrates' first choice of wife, and would still have become a companion even if Darwin didn't choose her.
    • On a wider scale, the eves are all expected to keep up high rankings by performing well in their classes, maintaining target weights, and generally meeting the standards they're expected to maintain. However, when the Inheritants arrive, the eves are told that not only are they not allowed to tell the Inheritants their rankings, but that the Inheritants are well within their rights to choose a low-ranked girl, leaving the eves (especially Freida) wondering what the point of the rankings even was. Heidi, a girl nowhere near the top ten, is chosen as a companion this way.
  • all lowercase letters: The names of the girls and women.
  • Alpha Bitch: Megan is the most popular eve and highest ranked; she's also the nastiest, meanest, and most superficial. She seems to have occupied this role even in previous years when Isabel was #1.
  • Always Identical Twins: Liz and Jessie are identical twins, although they were designed that way as a novelty to appeal to men.
  • Always Someone Better: Isabel is this to most of the other eves, being the #1 in almost all previous years and receiving special treatment from the chastities. Many of them glorify in her downward spiral out of jealousy-induced spite, especially Megan, and even Freida, while she cares about her best friend, can't help but resent Isabel to some extent.
  • Artificial Meat: The novel takes place in a society that arose after climate change destroyed our planet. As a result, animals don't exist any more and are artificially engineered for meat; and most food comes from machines.
  • Be a Whore to Get Your Man:
    • Freida's downfall results from thinking this would work with Darwin.
    • This does work for Heidi, who regularly has sex with Socrates during Heavenly Seventy. When Freida, his first choice of wife, is disqualified from the Ceremony he chooses Heidi instead and she becomes a companion.
  • Book Dumb: Freida (like the other eves) is illiterate with no academic skills; but is nevertheless intelligent and avidly watches the Nature Channel to learn about the world before her. In context of achievement within the School, Freida performs poorly in several classes yet still manages to stay within the top 10 of rankings.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Agyness is bullied for getting a short haircut that the other eves think makes her look too much like a boy. She doesn't care since she actually wants to be a chastity.
  • Broken Bird: Isabel has, by the start of the book, recently become one, giving up on maintaining a target weight, straining her friendship with Freida, and generally showing self-destructive behavior. It turns out to be because she was raped by the Father on her sixteenth birthday, and eventually leads to her suicide.
  • Buxom Beauty Standard: It's mentioned that Georgina (a successful concubine) and Virginia (a TV cook, seemingly a companion) are popular with the Euro-Zone's men for their buxom figures.
  • Celebrity Resemblance: All the eves, who are named after and designed to look like celebrities from the past.
  • Colorism: Lighter-skinned eves are considered more beautiful than the darker-skinned ones, to the point where the "Chindias-Zone" (formerly Asia) engineers all eves to be white and blonde. This is a source of angst for Freida, who is confirmed by Word of God to be ethnically Indian, and who frequently wishes she were paler.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Freida to Isabel throughout the book as Isabel gains weight and cuts the ties between them for an unknown reason.
  • Crapsack World: So, so much. As if the premise wasn't bad enough, the little details such as the Underground and what happens to 'female aberrants' makes everything get worse and worse as the story goes on.
  • Cruel Mercy: After Freida tries to convince Darwin to choose her as his companion and confesses her love to him everyone wants her to be thrown onto the pyre (that's not a metaphor). Instead Judge Goldsmith mercifully allows her to become a chastity which amounts to her having her womb ripped out and never being allowed to step outside of School.
    • Applies to all the other chastities as well. They're the only women who don't have to perform for men and are not "terminated" at 40 or even younger. But they all have their wombs ripped out, are essentially prisoners at the School, and age whilst being forced to care for an endless stream of young, beautiful girls - a form of psychological torture, given that they were raised to be taught their only value is in being beautiful.
    • To some extent, this applies to Heidi, one of the "Heavenly Seventy" girls who is chosen as a companion after Freida is disqualified. This seems like a much better life than becoming a concubine, but Heidi seems very unhappy at being separated from her friends (who are all now concubines) and thrust into a role that she isn't prepared for.
  • Cure Your Gays: Thanks to genetic engineering, homosexuality has been completely eradicated due to it threatening the potential of having children, one of the most important pillars of society.
  • Destructive Romance: At first Freida is convinced Darwin is the answer to all her questions in life, but quickly her dependence on him being her saving grace makes her anaemia and insomnia even worse.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: A variant — it's implied the concubines don't live long, and are "terminated" as soon as they start losing their looks (unlike companions, who are constantly "re-designed.") This actually appeals to some of them; Rosie wants to be a concubine so that she never has to be "old", even though as a companion she'd be made to look younger.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: So many examples. First there's the chastities punishing Freida by taking away her sleep-aid medication until she almost dies of sleep deprivation after organizing a night-time meeting between the girls in her year - and they all know it wasn't even her idea.
    • Then, after Freida tries to convince Darwin to choose her as his companion and confesses her love, she is put into forced isolation and is forced to watch a TV show where her humiliation is broadcast to the entire world. She ends up throwing up and banging her head against the wall for hours.
      • And as if that wasn't enough we find out at the end that any eve who was disobedient is sent Underground, put into a coma and genetically tested for the rest of their lives. Since Freida has only vague recollections of them, we can only assume they were sent there as toddlers.
  • Domestic Abuse: Apparently very common. Freida follows a reality TV show in which a celebrity frequently violently abuses his wife and no one thinks anything of it; and it's implied this is a risk all companions face.
  • Downer Ending: Isabel commits suicide rather than become the Father's companion, and Freida is first forced into being a chastity, then sent Underground for genetic testing, essentially dooming her to a permanent coma.
  • Driven to Suicide: Isabel. Chastity Ruth implies that suicide is so common at the School that she has tried to request renovations to the building to prevent further deaths (although the Father doesn't think this is worth spending money on.)
  • Dying Alone: both Isabel and Freida die alone — Isabel by committing suicide and Freida by being submitted to the Underground for genetic testing.
  • Enemy Mine: Freida is so upset at being rejected by Isabel that she veers towards this with Megan.
    • All the women in the Euro-Zone seem to feel this way after the news of Freida's last Heavenly Seventy with Darwin gets out. Although companions and concubines usually despise each other, they are united in outrage that Freida would try to defy the rules every other eve is forced to obey.
  • Everyone Can See It: Subverted. Freida thinks that everyone knows she and Darwin are a perfect couple, but both the chastities and Inheritants know Darwin's father will never allow him to choose her as a companion (and all the other eves are on the side of Megan, who will do anything to get Darwin's attention for herself.)
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Isabel. It's stated that blondes tend to place first in the Euro-Zone rankings, to the chagrin of the black-haired Megan, who has spent her entire School career trying to beat out Isabel to first place.
  • The Evils of Free Will: Keeping the eves unintelligent so they don't question the regime they live under.
  • Fat Bastard: All the Inheritants except Darwin are disrespectful and perverted towards the eves, but the overweight Albert especially so.
  • Fat Best Friend: Freida is terrified Isabel will become this to her and what consequences this will have for Isabel.
  • Girl Posse: Megan has one, and Freida desperately tries to fit in with them in an effort to keep her ranking high enough to become a companion.
  • Girls Love Chocolate: Most of the eves are described as liking "chocco" despite the School's strict rules about target weight. Freida often craves it and Chastity Ruth says it's obvious to anyone that chocco is Freida's favourite food.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Isabel. Agyness and Cara, the only other eves who show any kindness towards Freida, are also described as blonde.
  • Happiness Is Mandatory: Organised Recreation is supposed to keep the girls' Unacceptable Emotions in control. 'I am always happy-go-lucky' is a mantra Freida repeats throughout the book. And for the toddlers who didn't obey? They got sent to a GENETIC TESTING LAB.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Freida comes to the conclusion that maybe some girls want to be concubines just as much as others want to be companions, and some even want to be chastities.
    • The chastities are the extreme of this. They benefit the least from the system, yet they are the pillars that uphold it.
      • Freida and Isabel subvert this trope to the extreme, however.
  • Hypocrite: The chastities, who enforce ignorance and obsession with beauty among the eves, are the only women who are educated and not expected to conform to any standard of physical appearance.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: Freida - even though Megan and co treat her terribly, she clings to them after Isabel gives her the cold shoulder.
  • Immortality Begins at Twenty: Companions are "re-designed" as they age so that they forever look like they're in their early 20s. They are "terminated" at 40 when further re-designing becomes too difficult.
  • Insecure Love Interest: Freida is this to Darwin. For a while, at least.
  • The Insomniac: Freida, played realistically and horrifically. When her sleep-aid medication is taken away, she doesn't sleep for four days and has disorienting and terrifying hallucinations as a result.
  • Ironic Name: As a chastity, Freida is renamed Felicity, a name meaning "happiness."
  • Judgment of Solomon: One of the tests the eves are submitted to by the Inheritants is to be asked what they would have done in this situation. Freida is horrified that Rosie said she would cut the baby in half.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Megan gets this after it's revealed at the Ceremony that Isabel "beat" her by being chosen as the Father's companion. Even after Isabel dies, it's stated that the School is obliged to provide a replacement - even more humiliating for Megan, since a younger girl would be chosen.
  • Lesser of Two Evils: Being intelligent or having a mind of one's own is apparently considered a worse sin for a woman than being physically unattractive, since Christy (who is frequently abused and humiliated for being "fat") becomes a concubine, whereas Agyness is consigned to the "worst" third of the chastities.
  • Loophole Abuse: Becoming a chastity is this for eves who don't fill their expected role yet haven't technically done anything bad enough for them to be sent Underground, such as Agyness (who shows intelligence far above that "allowed" for eves) and Chastity Magdalena (who didn't want to have sex).
    • The eves are warned not to disclose their rankings to the Inheritants, or risk being disqualified from the Ceremony. Megan soon works out that this doesn't mean she can't tell them she expects to be a companion (indicating she was in the top ten.) She also gets around the rule against rejecting the Inheritants' sexual advances by convincing Albert that it would be more fun to hold off until their wedding.
  • Marriage Before Romance: This is apparently how the companionship system is supposed to work; women are not considered intelligent enough to make their own decisions about love, so they are taught that they may only fall in love if they are selected as a companion and even then not until after the wedding. For this reason, Freida telling Darwin she loves him is considered a worse sin than having premarital sex with him. The boys, in turn, usually have little to no interaction with the eve they end up marrying; they spend "Heavenly Seventy" having sex with the future concubines rather than getting to know any of the girls they are likely to choose as wives.
  • Meaningful Name: According to the author, all the eves are named after famously beautiful women of our own time and were engineered to look like them. Most of the "Heavenly Seventy" girls who end up as concubines are named after Victoria's Secret models. When an eve becomes a chastity, she is re-named and given a Biblical or saint's name.
    • Conversely, all boys born in the Euro-Zone are given the names of historically great men: Darwin, Socrates, Abraham, William, and so on.
  • Motive Decay: In-universe: after female babies stopped being born and extinction of the human race became a possibility, genetic engineers started creating women, the first eves. At some point, it became less about survival of the human race and having the eves meet every criteria of 'the perfect woman'.
  • Never Learned to Read: All the eves are illiterate, since the School doesn't teach them to read (or any other kind of practical skill) - just how to look pretty and appeal to men. After Freida meets Darwin, she realises how much she has missed out on through being unable to read.
  • Nothing but Skin and Bones: Freida is made fun of by Jessie and Liz for being "sick skinny". Freida's story itself is inspired by the author's struggle with anorexia and bulimia, and it doesn't hold back on the reality of the illnesses.
  • Old Man Marrying a Child: The Inheritants marry the top-ranked eves when they all come of age at 17, but an older man whose wife has passed her Termination Date (or just wants a replacement) can get one from the young girls at the School. The Father, who's clearly quite old, was due to have married 17-year-old Isabel. After Isabel commits suicide, it's mentioned that he will now marry another eve at the School, who will be no older than 16.
  • Older Than They Look: Applies to most companions, thanks to "re-designing." Grace, the wife of a wealthy Euro-Zone official, is around thirty yet looks only a year or two older than a 19-year-old concubine.
  • Peer Pressure Makes You Evil: Freida is so desperate to become Darwin's companion and avoid being relegated to concubine status that she joins the other girls in bullying Isabel, jealous of Isabel's ability to easily beat her in popularity with the Inheritants. Freida suspects that even Cara and Agyness might have been affected by this, realising that not all the hateful messages Isabel has received are from Megan and the twins.
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: Freida, unspokenly to Isabel throughout the book, and then to Darwin with dire consequences.
  • Proud Beauty:
    • Megan, who's absolutely convinced she is the most beautiful woman in the Euro-Zone and will easily score the highest-ranked Inheritant.
    • Georgina, a popular concubine on a TV show, who's mentioned to repeatedly win "hottest concubine" contests and is very vain about it.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Isabel was "taken for a test drive" by the Father on her sixteenth birthday, apparently the catalyst for her subsequent breakdown throughout the events of the story.
  • Really Gets Around: All the "Heavenly Seventy" girls, but especially Rosie.
  • Sadist Teacher: Chastity Ruth is this to the extreme.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Single-Minded Twins: Liz and Jessie are basically indistinguishable. They're always together, speak in unison, finish each other's sentences, and have no discernable differences in personality. Freida can tell them apart, but seemingly only because they dress differently.
  • Sleep Deprivation Punishment: Freida goes through a variation of this after the incident in the garden, with her sleep medication being cut off and thus rendering her unable to sleep properly. As a result, she stays awake for four days, becomes disoriented and delusional from sleep deprivation, and eventually passes out in the lunchroom.
  • Slut-Shaming: Generally, companions consider themselves to be far above the concubines, and Megan is constantly abusive towards the "Heavenly Seventy" girls who have already had sex with boys. Freida feels differently about this because she understands that some of these girls genuinely want to become concubines.
  • Sterility Plague: The premise is that girls can no longer be born naturally, threatening the future of humanity. The solution makes even more horrible problems, as after it became possible to design the women being created through cloning, it was thought that there was no reason not to make them perfect...
  • Ten Minutes in the Closet: Heavenly Seventy is basically a seventy-minute version of this, and seems to be there mostly for the Inheritants to have sex with the future concubines.
  • Token Good Teammate:
    • Chastity Magdalena is the only one of the chastities who shows any kindness or affection towards the girls.
    • Cara is the only member of Megan's Girl Posse who is kind to Freida.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Isabel, the kindest and most loving of the eves, dies early and tragically after committing suicide rather than marry the Father.
  • Weight Woe:
    • With consequences such as: Freida starving herself for months, losing consciousness for days, and being forced to eat to maintain target weight.
    • Isabel getting her stomach pumped and shrunk because she refuses to maintain target weight. Then she gives up and eats next to nothing.
    • Christy is publicly abused in class for being "fat", binges in secret, and abuses "Kcal blockers" in an effort to lose weight.
    • The School encourages eves to vomit or use laxatives if they think they have eaten too much, in an effort to keep to the strict rules about target weight.
    • Megan indicates she has to force herself to eat more than she wants, since the "Be Better" food (low calories) is pretty disgusting, and she'd otherwise go too far below target weight. Freida thinks she's just bragging, but Megan does seem to genuinely dislike the food, and the chastities take it seriously when an eve gets too thin.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Freida, when she thinks she and Isabel aren't friends any more, and Isabel doesn't deny it.
  • Wife Husbandry: A variant. The Father didn't raise Isabel himself, but designated her as his future companion from the day she was designed. He has had the chastities groom her into the wife he wants, as well as visiting her every year and "mentoring" her with a view to their marriage after the Ceremony.
  • With Friends Like These...: Megan to Freida. Freida also does this to Isabel after Isabel starts becoming distant.