‘Asking For It – Louise O’Neill

asking for it

I decided to read this after reading ‘Only Ever Yours’ and having a colleague – who has passed on some humdingers – recommend it.

First, I have to stress that this is a book that I really do believe EVERYONE should read. Teens, parents, anyone who works with young adults…they should be made to read this and then sit down and talk about their response to the ideas it raises. This is not a comfortable read, and it is not one I could say I enjoyed reading, but I could not put it down!

Emma, as is so often the case in real-life as teens work out who they are, is not a particularly likeable character. She is rude to her friends and family, makes some quite unwise decisions and has such a barbed tongue on her that you can understand why some of the characters within the novel take the view towards what happens to her that they do. That doesn’t mean they are right.

If you are going to pick up this book, it’s likely to be because you are already aware of the areas covered within its pages. Emma goes to a party, drinks, takes drugs and consents to sex with one man. What she doesn’t consent to, however, is what happens later at the party.

When we see her waking up the next morning, half-undressed, on her porch she has extreme sunburn and very little memory of what took place at the party. Like Emma, the details of what happened are drip-fed to us. Learning bit by bit about how she was gang-raped and her violation was revealed on social media was painful to read. What was even more painful was the reaction of others who feel that the boys – local heroes – involved shouldn’t be punished for their crime, and that Emma was responsible in some way for what happened to her.

This is a book that has, since I read it, generated huge amounts of publicity. It was a book that made me so angry when I first put it down, and it is certainly the kind of book that you have to talk about. Having had a number of conversations with teenagers I teach where they eerily mirrored some of the ideas expressed in the novel, it is clearly a much-needed novel.

For Emma, and all the other girls who seem to think that they do ‘ask for it’, I feel desperately sad. I also feel that this is a book that will generate discussion and – if we’re really lucky – change behaviour and attitudes. I certainly hope so.