My mother’s face appears in the mirror beside my own, bright red lips on powdered skin.
Louise O’Neill has been a rising star in the YA circuit ever since her debut Only Ever Yours hit bookshelves last year (and my review of this amazing debut is here). She’s not afraid to tackle difficult subjects and writes in such a way that expands those subjects into commentaries on modern day life, ready to be reviewed and discussed by her audience. Asking For It is another of those subjects and whilst a difficult read, I genuinely believe it to be such an important one. If you haven’t picked it up yet, do. I promise that though it may not be light-hearted and easy, it is an incredibly relevant, raw and important read.
Emma O’Donovan has just turned eighteen and she loves to look good. She has a good group of popular friends and most of the boys she encounters are wrapped around her finger within minutes. But her picture perfect life is about to be torn apart when she is sexually assaulted and abused at a house party. But she did knowingly drink and take drugs, she did have sex with one of the boys before and she wasn’t exactly dressed as a nun so was she tempting fate, giving the wrong signal or even just asking for it?
As this book, in terms of subject matter, is so jarring and uncomfortable to read I find it difficult to say that I enjoyed it but from the first page I found myself utterly compelled by it. Its value and worth lies in the honest reflection of modern day issues of consent, personal responsibility, social ethics and morality and I strongly feel that everyone should read it. O’Neill has stated in interviews that this book is about opening discussions, exploring the double standards that happen in society today and how the laws governing social media appear to encourage this divide.
The story within Asking For It is told from an interesting viewpoint. The victim to these crimes, whose voice is uncertain and unreliable, is also decidedly unlikeable. She’s selfish, manipulative and fairly reputable for being easy and as such you are programmed unfavourably towards her from the word go. You don’t particularly establish a relationship with Emma, or at least I didn’t, because of this difficulty to understand her but that’s the beauty of O’Neill’s story – just because Emma isn’t perfect or even pleasant, it doesn’t make what happened to her acceptable. Victim blaming is a huge issue in rape culture and one that is rarely acknowledged, let alone talked about but O’Neill is starting that awareness and discussion with this, her second novel.
Much in the same way as Only Ever Yours O’Neill does consider the storyline from the male perspective too – how male ‘banter’ and group culture can lead seemingly nice guys into behaving like animals, and disgusting ones at that. It’s an issue she highlights with subtlety and sensitivity because it in no way condones or excuses their behaviour but I feel its a worthy addition to a novel where the narrative focus is solely from the perspective of the victim. This isn’t a book just for women, girls, teens etc. it is a book for everyone. A book to start conversations, dialogue and discussion and, hopefully, the next one on your list.