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. 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.
The tag line on the cover describes it as Mean Girls meets The Handmaid’s Tale. Sometimes you wonder where they come with the tag lines for covers, but in this case its a pretty apt description. I was instantly struck that this could easily be The Handmaid’s Tale 100 years on from Atwood’s classic. This of course is inevitable for any dystopian story which focuses on a world where women have lost all their rights and independence. However in this case it is well done.
The dystopian setting however is just a cover in which to explore the issues which young girls face…enter the Mean Girls element. As someone who attended an all girls school (common in Ireland), there is no denying that teenage girls are right little bitches at times and if you place them around elusive boys they go even crazier and bitchier than usual. O’Neill expertly parodies our world (they use MyFace, and watch Chilling with the Carmichael’s) with the girls facing the same pressures as many teenage girls when it comes to body image, appearance and popularity. However for these girls failing to meet these pressures is the difference between being a wife or a concubine.
I can see why this has become a must read for young adults. It is one of those books about topics they can identify with, is also well written and will make them think. I am also not at all surprised that the film rights have already been bought. I know I am eagerly awaiting the film.