contemporary · feminism · review · young adult

Asking For It – Louise O’Neill

asking for it

*Warning: This post is not entirely spoiler free*

Blurb: “It’s the beginning of summer, and Emma O’Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy and confident. One night, there’s a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma. The next day, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She doesn’t know how she got there. She doesn’t know why she’s in pain. But everyone else does. Photographs taken at the party show – in great detail – exactly what happened to Emma that night. But sometimes people don’t want to believe what’s right in front of them, especially if the truth concerns the town’s heroes…”

I first started hearing Louise O’Neill’s name a few months ago when everyone in the booktube / book blogging world was talking about her debut novel “Only Ever Yours” which was labelled as a “feminist Young Adult Novel.” This book sounded interesting because here we had a woman coming out with a book basically saying things most of us girls are too afraid to say except to each other for fear of being scorned. Sadly, with an intimidating TBR I just didn’t have time to pick it up (although I very much intend to). Then I started seeing Louise tweeting a lot using a hashtag #notaskingforit I discovered she had a new book coming out titled Asking For It and she had written an article talking about why she had decided to write it. After reading that, I knew I could not and would not miss out on reading this book.

The story is told from the perspective of teenager Emma O’Donovan who was certainly an interesting character to read. I’ve seen a lot of reviews where bloggers have said that if she was in any other YA novel, she would be the bitch in that stereotypical mean girl group roaming around the High School. While I can see why they thought that, I didn’t agree. Emma isn’t short of narcissistic comments via internal monologue – even about her best friends – but come on, who hasn’t heard someone say something – friend or not- and thought to ourselves “God that’s stupid” / “Wow she’s a bitch.”

The only issue I had with this book was that there wasn’t much physical description of the characters so I had to do a lot of filling in myself.This made the first 50 pages a struggle because I just couldn’t picture them yet.

To start with you have the general build up of characters and the way things are in this world. However, through little hints dropped via Emma’s internal monologue it is suggested that something bad happened to Jamie a while ago and Emma made her keep quiet about it. As the tension on this subject continues to build it’s finally revealed that Jamie thinks she may have been “that word” because while she didn’t say no, she didn’t exactly say yes either. (Issues of consent are so important with young people and bringing this up in a novel aimed at teens is ridiculously important) In Jamie bringing up this topic again, the reader learns that Emma told Jamie she should keep quiet about what happened because this boy was a) popular and b) on the football team and so by coming forward about the “that word” Jamie would ruin: his future, his chances of getting into university, everyone would hate her and she wouldn’t be invited to parties anymore.(Boom. Victim Blaming) Emma also adds “it happens all the time. You wake up the next morning, and you regret it or you don’t remember what happened exactly, but it’s easier not to make a fuss”. So the “that word” was kept quiet.

(Note: the reoccurring use of “that word” rather than “rape” is used very often in this book because the characters feel that once you say “rape” it’s out there and can’t be taken back so the easiest way to avoid it, is to not use the word at all- the word in itself is a taboo.)

It’s now time for the party mentioned on the blurb: Your good ole high school party with drinking and drugs and cute boys making those harmless “I’ve heard she’s easy” comments *eye roll* Emma gets drunk, flirts with some boys and has sex with one of them, fully aware he has a boyfriend. All the way through their intercourse she thinks about how she doesn’t want to really do it and is relieved when he finally *ahems* Moving on from alcohol to drugs offered, her vision starts to become hazy. Next thing she knows she’s woken up lying on her front porch severely sunburnt as she’s been asleep there all day. She has no memory of how she got there. Or what happened to her.

That is until she sees the Facebook page.
This part made me feel sick. But it is something that is actually happening out there. Social media makes it only too easy to spread rumours or in this case, pictures at lightening speed.

Her friends turn on her, downplaying her defense by saying she was clearly “out of it” and Jamie is only too happy to repeat some of Emma’s choice phrases back to her (It’s easier not to make a fuss, right?” The story then spirals into the media, becoming one of those horrific ones we often hear on the news for example the Mattress girl who said she would carry her mattress around her college campus with her until her rapist was charged or at the very least, expelled. She recently graduated…. with her mattress.

Emma is subjected to stories about her on chat shows as to whether she “told the truth” and people even taking sides with the boys who “that word” while a hashtag #IBelieveBallinatoomGirl trends on Twitter as the court case draws closer.

The review on the front of the book reads “O’Neill writes with a scalpel” and that is without a doubt the best way to sum this book up. O’Neill is not afraid to push this book out there with a very serious topic and bring to light the issues we so easily gloss over or try to avoid talking about.

We need to talk about consent.
We need to talk about the rape happening to young people.
We need to support them.
We need to believe.
We need to stop questioning whether they were “asking for it” before we decide to take their side.

As O’Neill says in the afterword:

“I see young girls playing in my local park and I feel so very afraid for them, for the culture that they’re growing up in. They deserve to live in a world where sexual assault is rare, a world where it is taken seriously and the consequences for the perpetrators are swift and severe. We need to talk about rape. We need to talk about consent. We need to talk about victim-blaming and slut-shaming and the double standards we place upon our young me and women. We need to talk and talk and talk until the Emmas of this world feel supported and understood. Until they feel like they are believed.”

I firmly believe this book is a step forward in helping the “emmas” of the world and if I had it my way, it would be made complusary reading in schools.

*Trigger Warning: due to the theme of this book if you are a victim of sexual assault or rape I would be wary about reading it as there are a lot of very explicit scenes*

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