The reviews for Only Ever Yours falls into maybe three categories. Category one: This is the best book ever! Category two is: The Handmaidens Tale already exists, therefore this book is invalid. (Which seems stupid as The Handmaidens Tale is meant to be taken very, very seriously – which is great! That’s it’s purpose. But Only Ever Yours, despite its bleak tone, is more of a parody.) That brings me to complaint number three, which was my particular complaint – that the book is too bleak. I was pretty confident that this was true. Even if it’s not for teens (and honestly, I’m still not sure) I felt it was just so much of a downer.
Then again, I was used to the teen dystopias which were trendy when this book was written. In that book, gayness can’t be bred out and the two heroines run away together. And Handmaidens Tale has an incredibly bleak ending, which is probably why I remember it fifteen years after I first read it (I am old). But again, tonally, I found Only Ever Yours to be very different. I wasn’t until I’d dismissed the book as dreary (and sorta triggering to someone who has spent years starving themselves) and was on the elliptical machine that I started thinking about it again.
I listen to synthwave on the elliptical. I like future funk a lot but sometimes, I need to feel like I am running for my life from robots who have targeted me for immediate termination. But there’s this one mix that starts with the famous speech from 1984 about ‘a foot stamping on a human face, forever’ and that is just a bit too bleak for me. Again, the bleak complaint. I had the same complaint about 1984, but I got a weird feeling while reading all the complaints that couldn’t think of another book to compare it to other than Handmaidens Tale, even though it is a vastly different book. Something just wasn’t right.
Well, but also, I bought Only Ever Yours at The Salvation Army thrift store (which is its own dystopia. I’ll tell you about it someday) for like four dollars (they overcharge because they care) and then, discovered the last like, twenty pages were fucking MISSING. This is not the author’s fault, of course, though oddly it looked more like an error the publisher had made than someone who really hated the shit out of the bleak ending worse than me. So, on top of the four dollars I had spent, I had to buy a digital copy just to see if the ending was going to be as bleak as it promised. (Spoilers: it was.) Also, since the book was ‘old’ it did poorly on instagram. This isn’t the author’s fault, either but it made the book easier to dismiss, as instagram has become far too important to me.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about the bleak complaint, even writing into my Goodreads review that I hated making that assessment as I hated it when people did that with me. This blog used to be your typical complaint diary and I occasionally posted the entries on my facebook, where my mother’s boomer hippie friends would dismiss my actual lived experiences as ‘too bleak.’ Which I always thought was pretty victim-blamey. Almost as though, my job as a human person was to make sure I only accumulated happy experiences. It was pretty fucking dismissive and the more I thought about it, the more I thought that’s what I was doing here.
Only Ever Yours is unpleasant from start to finish. But so was 1984. But we would never compare Only Ever Yours to that because 1984 is a classic. But tonally, Only Ever Yours felt way more like 1984 than Handmaiden’s Tale. I wonder if the Handmaiden’s Tale comparisons had little to do with plot or tone and was only because the writer is female, and the characters are teenage girls. But to me, it felt like she wanted to write a story about what it would be like to be a Julia, schooled in some anti-sex dormitory. And that is honestly more interesting to me the more I think about it.
Plus, the parody aspects really are funny, in a makes-you-want-to-stop-living sort of way. It was one of the funniest books I’ve read for a while. I was probably judging the author for actually looking as though she’s spent her life starving whereas no matter how much I lose, I worry people still look at me and think ‘she looks so unhealthy. Why can’t she just try making better food choices?’ And that’s not fair. People have problems you can’t see. I do think the concept of thin privilege exists, but I’m not sure it’s up to me to determine who benefits and who doesn’t as I’m way too close to it. To me, almost everyone is thinner and better looking than I am. But someone else might feel the exact same way about me.
Only Ever Yours was written while social media (to the extent we use it today) was still taking off but it still did an eerily good job at echoing the intrusive thoughts which seem to get worse every time I scroll through the feed. Maybe I didn’t like a book that made me think about this. I have to play. Not playing isn’t an option. You can’t win if you don’t play. I also wonder the extent to which, a woman writing about bleak subject matter is punished in a way men aren’t. Every time I saw another ‘bleak’ review, even though I basically agreed, it felt deeply weird, and I would think about the unspoken rules still dictating women be pleasant and nurturing. It’s our job not to have problems or at least, to appear as though we don’t. Anyway, I liked this book a lot more the more I thought about it, and just had to write a new review telling people who don’t want to read a bleak dystopia, why you should reconsider.