Just finished reading this and it’s been a while since I’ve managed to consume a book in a day! This was recommended to me by my friend Isha a while back when I still worked in publishing in London. I bought the book last year and have been meaning to get around to reading it for a while – as with all my other books, its been gathering dust on my over-crammed bookshelf. I have needed some hermit time for a while now so have cut myself off from social activities and Facebook (hate it so much!!) to re-focus and re-energise and so have finally got around to enjoying my favourite pastime.
The plot takes place in a futuristic society where women – referred to as ‘eves’ – are built purely to fulfill the desires and satisfaction of men – at the age of 16 men decide whether they will become their companion (i.e. wife and bear them plenty of sons), concubine (join their harem) or become a chastity (a chaste woman whose duty is to raise the girls at the school where the story takes place).
The thing that was unique for me about this book is that the main character of this book is brown-skinned (O’Neill has said that she is of Indian descent), although this isn’t apparent at first due to her desire to have paler skin, as she is always comparing herself to the other girls in the school, and believes that this will also make her more attractive to men. I say this is unique as someone who has read a large chunk of the library and rarely comes across a main character who is non-white. Although this never really bothered me growing up (coz I would just imagine myself as the main character anyway) and probably never gave it much thought, now that I’m older, the lack of representation or stereotypical representation of different ethnicities in books sticks out to me like a sore thumb and actually find bothers me a lot. So yes, I was pleasantly surprised that the main girl was brown-skinned but I also understand the author’s reasoning behind doing so – it helps to showcase the expectations and beauty standards around her in more of a vivid contrast.
Although the world building in the book is pretty limited and confined to the school in which the story takes place, and there is a lot of repetitive behaviour, dialogue and thoughts (which can be laborious to read over and over again but I appreciate the effect O’Neill is trying to create – that these girls have had these thoughts and rules grounded into them from such a young age they can’t think beyond them) and the characters are all quite two-dimensional, I enjoyed reading it. It is an exposition and commentary on patriarchy and societal beauty norms and pressures, and it is all frightening real – the story takes place in the future but the experiences of the girls are very much that of today.
For me it was also an interesting insight into the obsession around insane female beauty standards and the pressure to be thin, as this is again not something that I had given much thought to the past always having been more focused on my academia, as opposed to what I wore and how I looked. However, I related to it throughout as it touched upon many things I encountered/felt growing up – being brown and not identifying with the images of beauty that surrounded me, going to an all girls school during my critical teenage years and witnessing the obsession with makeup and boys and thinness, being overweight for a large majority of my life, thinking I’d be overweight for the rest of my life, and then actually having lost the weight etc. and being thin, seen the competitiveness and sometimes rivalry, it has inspired in the women around me.
The book deals with profound issues – from mental health, weight, addiction, eating disorders, paranoia to hopelessness, friendship, the need to be accepted, sexuality, homophobia and more. Overall, I just love a bit of dystopian fiction – it really helps to bring out the the emo in me lol. The downside for me was that the book doesn’t actually endeavour to tackle the issues it foregrounds. Which is a shame really because I feel YA fiction lends itself to very effective components to do so and with a very engaged audience too.
Also, a side note – Quercus there are so many spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in this book I don’t know how it was even allowed to be published in this condition – sort your shit out.
Gonna give it a rating of 3.5 stars. Feeling arbitrary. But also because I don’t think the book was as ‘deep’ as it could have been.
Happy Sunday people and keep reading! X