Book Review | Asking For It by Louise O’Neill (12/12 Book Club: January)


TW: Rape.

Slut, liar, skank, bitch, whore. 

In a small town, where everyone knows everyone, Emma O’Donovan is different: she’s pretty, popular, “in”. She works hard to keep it that way. At least, she did – until that night. Now she’s an embarrassment, a slut, nothing to anyone and everyone knows it. And the pictures – the pictures – that everyone has seen means that she can never forget. 

Go into a crowded place, and look around. You’re probably in a group of strangers, not really knowing anyone. Well, that’s where you’re wrong. Look around again. There are Emmas everywhere. There are Emmas who don’t know it yet; Emmas who are still denying it; Emmas who have gone through everything that can be thrown at them and still have nightmares; Emmas who are years and years older but still shy when an unfamiliar hand touches their shoulder; Emmas who are standing behind you, in front of you, next to you, and you might not even know it. 

Each book is unusual and unique, yes: but in each book, there is something that is relatable. And Emma O’Donovan is relatable to every person on the planet.

To be quite frank,  I found none of the characters likeable (aside from Bryan, even though I didn’t like him at the start either). Emma, I felt sorry for. I didn’t like her, particularly, but the pity I felt for her could have turned easily into liking eventually.

[If we just quickly delve into a generic book review: the writing was on point, the characters were (sadly) realistic, and I felt like it did show a good, small-town lifestyle. I am unhappy at the ending, but as explained in the author’s note, O’Neill felt like this was more realistic. The emotion I felt most when reading the book was anger, followed swiftly by sadness and indignation.]

I would also just like to say, quickly, that this book also has very realistic depictions of anxiety. Emma begins to suffer from panic attacks, severe anxiety, and (correct me if I’m wrong) agoraphobia. My heartbeat accelerated reading the passages, and I could vividly imagine them happening.

I also loved O’Neill’s way of writing (using the parenthesis) which really helped to give extra information and insight into Emma and what she was really thinking; I think that this helped to add another layer to the anxiety too.

I’ve never personally been in a town where there was so much hatred everywhere. Although it seemed that everyone was friends, it was actually more like everyone was enemies. I couldn’t imagine a place like that, but the town Ballinatoom could have been a metaphor for the community that often surrounds a rape victim: slut, liar, skank, bitch, whore, she was asking for it, it was her fault, she shouldn’t have been drinking, cut ties with her family, it’s her parents’ fault, it’s her brother’s fault… It’s anyone’s fault but the rapists’.

O’Neill has written a book which not only shows the devastating effects of rape, but how it is dealt with, and what happens to the victim vs. the rapist afterwards. Reading this book, I want to scream at how goddamn stupid the people are who believe that Emma was somehow asking for it because she was drunk, or who believe that “boys will be boys”. I hated her parents so much for believing the same.

And yet, O’Neill’s book is hyper realistic in today’s society. Don’t believe me? Brock Turner: case in point. A Stanford swimmer who got barely any prison time because it would’ve wrecked his swimming chances, and anyway, the girl who got raped was drunk, right? So it’s not his fault, right? She was asking for it, right?

Give me strength.

Victim-blaming, sadly, goes both ways. Emma thinks that she is ruining the boys’ lives because she they raped her, and she hasn’t stayed quiet about it. The whole town thinks she is ruining the boys’ lives, despite the fact they not only raped her but posted naked pictures of her online. The pity I felt for Emma was so, so strong, because no one in the damned town was supporting her at all, aside from (maybe) her therapist, her brother, and the Rape Crisis centre. Sadly, the anger that I feel about this book is anger than people are feeling in everyday life because for some goddamn reason this is still happening every day. 

This book isn’t pleasant to read, but to be honest I think everyone should read it. I would like someone to read it and then to tell me how it was Emma’s fault. If she was truly Asking For It. I hope this book makes you angry, as it rightly should, and I hope you go out there and protect those Emmas who the world doesn’t bother to protect.

This book was read as the first BOTM for my new book club, ’12 Months, 12 Books’. In writing a little about feminism here, I feel that this book was still a strong read, despite the main character not actually being feminist, because it opens up the discussion to show how much feminism is needed. There are double standards imprinted on today’s men and women, and there shouldn’t be, because they are unequal, unfair, and, yes, unfeminist. They leave the men able to get away with anything, and the women being the victims and yet the aggressors. This book has made me angry and more than ever I want to fight in favour of the Emmas of the world.

You can join my book club by clicking here.

TITLE: Asking For It
AUTHOR: Louise O’Neill
GENRE: YA/contemporary
PUBLISHER//YEAR OF PUBLICATION: Quercus//2015 (reprinted 2016 by riverrun)
ISBN: 9781784293208
PERSONAL SOURCE: Bought from Amazon

2 thoughts on “Book Review | Asking For It by Louise O’Neill (12/12 Book Club: January)

  1. Ahhh I really want to read this! I loved Only Ever Yours, which is by the same author, so I think I would love this one as well!

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