[REVIEW] Asking for It

Asking for It by Louise O'Neill
Young Adult: contemporary
September 2015, Hachette.

It's the beginning of the summer in a small town in Ireland. Emma O'Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy, confident. One night, there's a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma.

The next morning, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She can't remember what happened, 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 explicit detail, what happened to Emma that night. But sometimes people don't want to believe what is right in front of them, especially when the truth concerns the town's heroes...

This was a difficult book to read, not because of the writing style or because of lack of interest but because of the content. These kinds of books are important because sometimes it is necessary for fiction to show us the things that we are blind to in reality. While I was reading this book, and explaining what it was about to a housemate who wanted to know what I was reading, I thought a lot about why I chose to read something so confronting and uncomfortable when I could have been reading something light and entertaining.

Asking For It is a close and personal look at an account of gang rape that, while fictional in this book, is something that happens again and again and again. Although unlikeable at first, protagonist Emma is a familiar example of the kind of women who are created by a society that glorifies male reputation over the voices of the women who have been damaged by them. This book is raw, and real, and it makes it very clear that no woman is ever asking for it, no matter what behaviour she displays.

The book covers the events leading up to the rape and the events that happen after, covering every little detail so that the reader doesn't feel at all like they are being deprived of the complexities of the story. Unfortunately, in the harsh light of reality we don't get all of the details, and even when the facts are clear and the voices are loud people are willing to turn a blind eye. This is a confronting book, and I would definitely advise against reading it if you've ever experienced sexual assault of any kind because the details have the potential to be quite triggering but if such an experience is alien to you then this book is something that you should definitely give a try.

We need difficult books to make difficult situations clearer, so that we can understand both the experiences of others and the ways in which our attitudes and actions can create a culture of harm. I am in no way saying that this book explains all of the evils of rape culture and it is certainly not a blueprint for changing the system, but it is a powerful story that provides a chilling reflection of the kinds of things that teenage girls experience all the time.

There's a reason why O'Neill won the Irish Book Award 2015 and the Irish Book Award: Newcomer of the Year Award in 2014.

Read this book.

Potential Triggers: Rape, Sexual Assault
What to Read Next:

  • Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. Deals with the unreasonable standards put upon women by society through the lens of satire. Laugh out loud funny and potentially therapeutic after Asking for It.
  • Raw Blue by Kirsty Eager. Aussie author, rather than being about the event it is about the recovery, and the ways in which protaganist Carly finds the strength to take control of her life.
  • All the Rage by Courtney Summers. You can't go wrong with Courtney.

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