Book Review: “Only Ever Yours” by Louise O’Neill and “The Catherine House” by Elisabeth Thomas

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

I have a insatiable draw to dystopian stories. I also have an insatiable draw toward stories set at strange boarding schools with dark secrets. I reach the pinnacle of those genres when I read “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro. I’ve been chasing the breathtaking high of that book ever since.

Both “The Catherine House” by Elisabeth Thomas and “Only Ever Yours” by Louise O’Neill took me close to the place that Ishiguro arrived at with his stunning dystopia. All three of the books deal with themes of science, survival, and progress. Each of the protagonists is a woman drafted into the role of experimental subject through no fault of her own. And without her consent.

“In Only Ever Yours”, we follow a girl in a post-climate-apolypse world, where women aren’t born; they’re designed in a lab to be perfect specimens for the pleasure of men. They are trained only to be beautiful and willing. They can’t read, they can’t do math, but they are ornamental and undemanding. They may be called upon to bear sons for the good of the world. Or they could be sent “Underground” to an undescribed fate.

On the flip side, “The Catherine House” is a set at a mysterious college where a specially selected group of student are granted the gift of knowledge and the promise of worldly success. In exchange they are cloistered for three years in the college that is studying “new materials” that could revolutionize everything. But the price of attendance is participation in the grand experiment.

In the end, neither the knowledge nor the ignorance is a saving grace for these women. Being what society wants isn’t enough to prevent society from turning on you. In each of these books, I saw a plausible outcome for what happens when your world rejects you. Both endings will keep me up at night.

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