Genre: YA, Dystopia
Publishing Date: July 3rd 2014
Kindle Edition: 400 pages
Stand Alone or series: Stand alone
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.Review:
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. . .
“I want to hide, fold into the shadows and become invisible so no-one can look at me any more.”
What does it mean to be everything a man could ever want? This is a question frieda has asked herself her entire life. In a futuristic society where women can no longer have female babies, women must be created in labs. And really, if you're going to make a woman in a lab you might as well make a few improvements right? These genetically engineered women (called "eves") are taught, from the age of four, how to be pleasing to men. No beautiful girl is beautiful enough and weight to height ratios are carefully monitored. Girls are pitted against one another in ranking competitions and the pecking order is completely determined by looks.
At the end of each eve's "schooling," the top tier girls will be chosen to be the wives of different members of society. The next tier of girls will become concubines and learn how to be glorified sex slaves for society. Those left behind will remain in the school to teach the next group of eves while a few will end up "below" (a mysterious underground area we hear rumors about). This is a world where every hair must be in place and every food decision is closely criticized. "Don't be academic" is an insult and independent thinking is a foreign concept.
This is one of those books some people will hate. It is long. Not so much as in number of pages, but rather it feels long. It is bleak. I'm talking A Handmaid's Tale or 1984 bleak. For me the repetitive nature of the book allowed me to empathize with frieda in a way that her character didn't easily allow. She is unlikable. She's petty and shallow and exactly what she should be based on her life. Friendship is a complicated concept when your every move is scrutinized and everyone is your competition to a better life. I think what affected me more than frieda's unlikability though, was the way I could relate deeply to her pettiness. I've envied my friends. I've craved acceptance from people who I've also loathed. And I understand the deep shame surrounding those things. It hurts to be jealous of the people you love and frieda is trying the best she can to deal with emotions she has been told shouldn't even exist.
Another hard thing about this book is the way the ending leaves us in despair. frieda is not the YA dystopian hero who will change the system. She is a broken girl who is desperately trying to find a place to belong. As things get bad you'll find yourself wondering how they can get any worse, and then they will. It's heartbreaking and gut wrenching and everything I look for in a book. O'Neill has managed to write a YA book worthy of dystopia genre. It is complex and unapologetic and I wish I could have read it when I was a teen.
I've read a few reviews questioning how this book has feminist themes due to the inherently shallow nature of the story, but I think that's an overly simplistic view of the story. What O'Neill does is question the denial of autonomy to women and what that could look like. This book is incredibly feminist. It is just subtle and allows the reader to do the thinking without hitting us over the head with it. It is very well done.
I loved it. I read it in one sitting and I felt like my whole body was tingly all over by the time I finished. This book burned a hole right through me and I've never read anything that so perfectly captured the sorrow of growing up and the pain of comparing yourself to the people you love the most. I cried. I laughed. Instant favorite.
Rating: 10. One of the best books I've ever read.