Published: 3rd July 2014
freida and isabel have been best friends their whole lives. Now, aged sixteen and in their final year at the School, they expect to be selected as companions – wives to wealthy and powerful men. The alternative – life as a concubine – is too horrible to contemplate. But as the intensity of the final year takes hold, the pressure to be perfect mounts. isabel starts to self-destruct, putting her beauty – her only asset – in peril. 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…
Thank you to Lauren at Quercus for very kindly sending me a review copy. When I received the book before publication date, I knew nothing about it. But then once it was available in bookshops, everyone went absolutely crazy for it and I couldn’t wait to see what all the hype was about. I recently had Louise on my blog talking about her life as a debut author, so make sure you have a read of that as its one not to miss.
Freida and Isabel are programmed to be beautiful, but what if they doubt themselves? In a Nineteen Eighty-Four style, the two girls and the rest of their classmates are controlled by a Chastity every day and night. They’re given medication to sleep and to lose/gain weight – let’s not forget the mirrors which are all around their bedrooms. I can understand having one or two mirrors but having walls completely covered, it was a bit much for me. But why do they have them? They need to see how beautiful or ugly they look on a daily basis of course. When we learn that the girls are ranked in order of their beauty, I could feel my blood boiling. Louise has taken a group of girls, put an unbelievably addictive twist on it and given us a marvellous debut novel.
The chapters lead up to a ceremony of when they’ll be chosen as a wife and if not, they become a Chastity. Freida, our protagonist is worried that she’s not good enough and for me, she was a brilliant main character as there are lots of women in the world who feel exactly the same way about themselves.
“I tried not to compare the size of my thigh gap with hers.”
The character of Megan is the Regina George of the book. If you’ve watched Mean Girls, read this book and you will understand what I mean. She is a complete bitch. I absolutely hated her – she was the most annoying, self-centred young female I think I’ve ever read about. She just irritated me to my core and that’s very hard to do. These girls are complete bitches to one another – nice to their face, horrible behind your back. But it’s not just the girls who have a say in who is best as it’s down to the Chastity to determine how they’re punished. The friendship between Freida and Isabel is strong at the beginning but by the end, I felt as if we didn’t know Isabel at all. Her character was very complex and there were a lot of secrets kept hushed up but by the end, I did hope that the two girls would be best friends once more.
When the young men arrive to choose their bride, I was eager to see how this part would be played out. Who Freida be the favourite because she’s the main character? Or would she have to fight someone else for her “dream” man? Enter Darwin (no, not the monkey from The Wild Thornberry’s), he is THE man – he’s handsome, wealthy and his Father is very successful and well known. But who does he have his eye on?
Louise’s writing style is very clever. She doesn’t capitalise the names of the girls to symbolise that they’re of no importance. The language is very addictive, much like the entire concept of the plot. The characters come across on the page with such ease and they felt very real to me. The visualisation was absolutely superb and when I put the book down once or twice to get on with life, the characters were still in my mind. All the individual stories were tied up neatly towards the life and I loved the fact that Louise didn’t allow the ending to be expected. It took a dramatic turn and I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading. I simply cannot fault this book – it’s the perfect dystopian. This is by far one of my favourite books of 2014. Its George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four meets Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. If this is Louise’s debut, I can’t wait to see what else she writes. Just call me her number #1 fan.