Louise O’Neill wins The Bookseller’s YA Book Prize for Only Ever Yours
Cork author’s debut is a feminist dystopian tale which satirises how young women are scrutinised for their looks
Louise O’Neill: her debut novel Only Ever Yours “is a fierce, timely feminist tale that should be read by everyone, not just young adults, and it was the favourite of both our teen and industry judges”. Photograph: Denis Minihane
Louise O’Neill has won The Bookseller’s YA Book Prize for Only Ever Yours, published by Quercus Books, the first in Britain and Ireland to specifically focus on fiction for young adults, a growing market.
O’Neill’s debut novel, a feminist dystopian tale which satirises the way young women are scrutinised for their looks, beat nine other shortlisted novels to take the prize at a ceremony held at Foyles Charing Cross road flagship in London last week.
Only Ever Yours was chosen by a judging panel which included Charlotte Eyre, children’s editor of The Bookseller, World Book Day director Kirsten Grant, Waterstones children’s buyer Melissa Cox, Irish broadcaster Rick O’Shea and teenage readers.
Eyre said: “I’m really pleased the judges chose Only Ever Yours as the winner of the first YA Book Prize. The book is a fierce, timely feminist tale that should be read by everyone, not just young adults, and it was the favourite of both our teen and industry judges. Louise is a very worthy winner.”
O’Shea added: “Only Ever Yours is, as far as I’m concerned, not just a worthy winner of the prize but one of the best speculative fiction books I’ve read in years. It pushes the boundaries of contemporary YA. I’ll be pressing it into the hands of anyone who might read it.”
Erin Minogue, a teen judge, said: “Only Ever Yours is not only a fast-paced and terrifying story but also a beautifully written and important book that everyone needs to read, regardless of age or gender.”
JoAnne Cocadiz, children’s buyer at Foyles, called the book “an unrelentingly grim tale that forces readers to confront the harmful unrealistic expectations of society that young people are constantly confronted with. Today’s standards of beauty, success and happiness are often contradictory and Only Ever Yours reminds us what may be if we lose sight of our humanity and the value of our diversity.”
Reviewing the book for The Irish Times, Robert Dunbar wrote: “Louise O’Neill’s remarkable debut novel, Only Ever Yours (Quercus, £7.99), merits attention and commendation on several levels. In one sense, and particularly because of its structure and suspense-fuelled plot, it qualifies as an easy read, but in terms of its content, little about it is easy: numerous moments may well remind readers of those television news programmes that warn viewers that they may find certain images in the bulletin distressing.”
Sarah Gilmartin’s Irish Times review said: “Her debut novel is billed as a cross between the film Mean Girls and Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s Tale. The publishing industry loves categorising new fiction by aligning it to earlier hits, but in this instance the comparisons are apt. The hormonally charged battleground of Tina Fey’s acclaimed movie is taken to extreme in O’Neill’s book. This is the bitchiest high school you’ll ever come across. And just as, in Atwood’s seminal novel, 30 years old next year, Offred and her fellow handmaids are designated child bearers in the Republic of Gilead, the ruling elite in Only Ever Yours controls the bodies of women to horrific extremes.”
Only Ever Yours was chosen by authors Marian Keyes and Tara Flynn as oneof their books of the year in The Irish Times last December. Keyes wrote: “Every teenage girl – and, actually, everyone – should read this book.” Flynn wrote: “Although classed as young-adult fiction, Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours (Quercus) is very grown-up indeed. Dark and thought-provoking, it takes society’s objectification of women to an extreme futuristic conclusion. There are some good Logan’s Run shivers, and it is beautifully written.”
O’Neill was born in west Cork in 1985, studied English at Trinity College Dublin and worked for the senior style director of American Elle magazine. While in New York, she also worked as an assistant stylist on a number of high-profile campaigns. She works as a freelance journalist, covering feminist issues, fashion and pop culture. Her website is louiseoneillauthor.com and you can find her on Twitter @oneilllo
The other shortlisted books were:
Goose - Dawn O’Porter (Hot Key Books)
Salvage - Keren David (Atom/Little, Brown)
Ghosts of Heaven - Marcus Sedgwick (Orion)
Trouble - Non Pratt (Walker)
Lobsters - Lucy Ivison and Tom Ellen (Chicken House)
Finding a Voice - Kim Hood (O’Brien Press)
Say Her Name - James Dawson (Hot Key Books)
A Song for Ella Grey - David Almond (Hodder Children’s Books)
Half Bad - Sally Green (Penguin)