Monday, October 19, 2015

Book Review: Asking For It by Louise O'Neill

Release date: September 3, 2015
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Quercus
Age group: YA (content watching: strong language and explicit scenes)
Pages: 384
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

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...

I am not sure how I should begin this... 
This is such a difficult book to read. One of the most difficult books I've read in a while. Probably since I read All the Rage by Courtney Summers which have a very similar subject matter to this one. Though I loved All the Rage, this one digs into the issue of rape and its consequences even deeper. So for the young readers, please take into account that this one has a warning about explicit language and scenes. 

Emma O'Donovan is the queen of her little Irish town. She is beautiful, and she knows it. Guys want to sleep with her, and she knows it. Her friends are jealous of her, and she knows it... and loves it. She basks in her beauty, the jealousy of others and loves knowing that pretty much every guy in the town would cheat on their girlfriends just to have a night of fun with Emma. She is catty, mean and cruel. She seems to care about herself, and herself only. She knows that her neighbor Conor, a boy she has known since she was a kid, is in love with her, but she does not want Conor, because being with him would mean that she would not have someone to show around, someone who would make others jealous.

Emma is not new to parties. But not all of the parties she has been at have changed her life. For good. When after a while night Emma wakes up from her porch , sunburned, without underwear, raw and sore, without any memories of the last night, Emma considers that she might have gone too far. After a hospital visit to tend for the sunburn, Emma knows that she looks horrible, but thinks that it is her only problem. Then she goes to school and her friends first ignore her and then are angry at her. People whisper behind her back, call her a slut and a whore. Though Emma has been called that before, she does not understand what is going on. When people talk about the party, Emma doesn't remember. What could have she done that was so horrible?

When pictures surface, showing in EXPLICIT detail what happened to Emma at the party, everything changes. In the pictures, she is passed out, naked, her legs open, the most private parts of her body displayed for all to see. And there are guys in the pictures too. Guys everyone in the town knows. Football players. The heroes of the town. And they are using her. In ways no one should be used without consent. 

When the photos start to circulate the school, the blame falls on Emma. She must have been asking for it. She was drunk. It is not like she was an innocent good girl before that night. She must have known what was going on. She must have liked it. She is a slut. She is a whore. The boys involved are good buys. Emma has no right to destroy their lives. Their futures. 

One of the most impressive attributes of this book is the way O'Neill is able to make the reader feel for such an unlikable character. It would not be wrong to say that at the beginning of the book Emma is pretty much despicable. She is the type of person I would never want to be associated with. She treats her friends like trash and though I love confident people, her confidence is toxic. Though I never particularly started to like Emma as a person, I did want her to get justice, to find a way to go on, to understand that she is not to blame. What happened wasn't her fault. And I wanted the people around Emma, the community and the world as a whole, to see what actually happened. To understand who's to blame. 

I think this book is pretty realistic in the ways it portrays society's reactions to situations like this. For the people in the community, in Emma's home town, Emma seems to be the one to blame. The way she acted, the way she dressed and her reputation make it seem to them like Emma was asking for it. There seems to be an understanding that the guys are not to blame for something Emma clearly wanted. A want Emma signaled with her behavior and her clothes. As the investigation to the events starts, the information about what happened reach the mainstream media and the discussion looks very similar to that happening in the town. But there are also people who believe that Emma was wronged. Unfortunately for Emma, those people are not ones close to her. 

The family dynamics of Asking for It are extremely interesting. Once Emma's found from the porch without memories of the previous night, her parents cannot believe what kind of chain of events would have led their good, sweet, beautiful girl to a state like that. When the events take the label of rape, Emma's mother starts drinking while Emma's father cannot look at her daughter anymore. Only Emma's big brother seems to understand the reality of the situation and demands action. But can Emma go on with the situation? Can she destroy the lives of boys she used to be friends with? Does she deserve justice?

O'Neill's prose is powerful, raw and strong. It digs in deep, does not shy away from detail and goes straight to the point, showing the scary and brutal truth of Emma's life after the disastrous party. The way O'Neill writes makes it impossible for the reader to forget what happened. The novel never belittles the consequences of rape neither does it turn them into a spectacle. There is a sense of honesty and sense of respect in the writing. There's an understanding that there are people like Emma out there, people who have actually gone through something as horrible as this. 

As I said, Asking for It is definitely not the easiest book out there to read. It is not romantic or funny. It doesn't have a happy ending (that is not a spoiler, because you can probably figure it out from the subject matter). It does not really have any likable characters. It's prose will probably haunt you. But despite all that, it is such an IMPORTANT BOOK and one that should be read by men and women, young and old. It is a book that will want you to discuss it. It is a book that will probably make you angry. And it definitely is a book that will make you think. 

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