Asking for It – Louise O’Neill

Synopsis

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…

Warning: This is a heavy one. It covers sensitive topics. I think you can glean what I mean.

Review

Wow, this was bleak. For a good long while, I thought it was extremely unrealistic. The overt bullying and shaming was insane. Do people really act that way, still? It’s 2015. I didn’t understand the Mean Girls-esque frenemy-friendships. Why stick with people who make you miserable? I can’t imagine people actually putting up with such constant debasement.

So let’s talk about the meat of this issue. Arguments like “Boys will be boys” or “but did you see what she was wearing?” are so passé. Does anyone really think it’s okay for boys to get away with that sort of behaviour scot-free? We shouldn’t have to teach our daughters not to wear certain clothes or watch out for dark alleys, we should be teaching our sons to know better. Why wasn’t this rhetoric brought up to Emma? Why doesn’t anyone tell her it’s not all on her? There are the boys, and we don’t get all of their perspectives (like Sean, drunk and high out of his mind, evidently. Doesn’t he regret anything? Doesn’t he see what he’s doing to his manic pixie dreamgirl? Or Fitzy, the classic bystander.)—just the lewd ones like Dylan (a repeat offender!) and Paul. Why isn’t Jamie speaking up, when we all know she wanted to? It turns Emma into a martyr and sets a precedent, but only if her case is strong enough to stand on its own. Add another victim into the mix, and it changes things. There’s strength in numbers, and I wish that Jamie was the hero of this story. I understand why she would feel even more afraid after watching what happened to Emma (I’m definitely extrapolating here), but the point is that neither of them would feel as much heat if they’re not alone.

There are the parents, who have a duty to teach a basic sense of morals to their children. There are countless educators who turn a blind eye. There are therapists that don’t recognize the problem; that assume that pills and potions are a cookie-cutter fix-all rather than a supplement to something more. There is the media, cruel as ever. There’s the legal framework, which only discourages victims. There’s a whole systematic set of beliefs here that work against progress. You could say I’m worked up.

It was kind of contradictory—get branded a rapist and your life is ruined, but get rumoured to be a rapist, and you can go on living your normal life. Perhaps Conor was the one person with a different opinion on that. I know he wants to help (sweet child), but the poor boy doesn’t understand that beauty is no longer a compliment, or a weapon to use against others, but Emma’s fatal flaw. And if she doesn’t put up a fuss, or withdraws the complaint, or finally decides that the constant scrutiny isn’t worth it, then everyone can get on with things, right? Except for her (thank you, Bryan!). There was not an utterance about how being a rape victim comes with its own stigma; how it ruinedher life. You think, “There’s no way this is like real life,” but then you take something as recent as a couple months ago, with rape allegations against Patrick Kane. The charges were dropped, the hockey community sighed in relief, and Kane is now on the hottest point streak in his career. Heck, it’s the hottest point streak for the entire Blackhawks franchise. Why were the allegations dropped? Why were they made in the first place? Seems like an extreme thing to accuse out of nowhere. And so it goes.

I wonder if it made a difference that Emma was not a good person. It was hard to connect to her at first because she’s so poisonous and toxic to the people around her and the ones she loves most. So everything that happened to her—you can say it’s superficial because her beauty was not up to her, but can you say the same about her personality? Emma got to where she did because her support system was flimsy at best. But If she were as considerate and thoughtful as Bryan, if she humoured her parents, perhaps they wouldn’t give up on her. If she didn’t constantly demean her friends, or specifically target their biggest insecurities and use them as leverage, maybe her friends would genuinely be able to help. I think those statements are fair. But at what point does that argument become a slippery slope? Can you also say that if she wasn’t so emotionally manipulative, especially to those boys, that they might not take notice of her at all? You see girls like her, Mia, or Jamie “at risk.” But it’s not all physical, is it? It’s not all deterministic, is it? Because if it were, why don’t girls like Ali or Maggie find themselves in the same situations?

This book covers complex issues. It is repetitive in nature to drive certain points home. I didn’t enjoy it very much, but I doubt I was supposed to.

Related Reading

  • Pieces of Us – Marie Gelbwasser
  • Crank – Ellen Hopkins
  • Just Listen – Sarah Dessen
  • Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Good Girls – Laura Ruby

Rating: 2/5

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