Tuesday 15 September 2015

Asking For It by Louise O'Neill

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 . .

Asking For It by Louise O'Neill was published by Quercus Children's Books on 3 September and is the author's second book.  Asking For It was written for the Young Adult market, and due to the strong language and explicit scenes, is not suitable for younger readers. However, it's a book that packs a very very powerful punch, and the theme is incredibly important, it is not only for the young, every adult should read this.

Emma O'Donovan is having a great summer. The weather is hot, there are parties to go to and boys to impress. Emma is beautiful, the most beautiful girl in town, and she knows it. She is determined that every boy's eyes will be on her first, and likes to make the other girls in town notice too. Emma has a bunch of friends, but she's not very friendly. She's the queen of put-downs, keeping her friends in their place with her acid tongue and her snide comments.

Doted on by her parents, adored by her brother, admired by the other girls in town and lusted after by most of the boys, Emma is on top of the world.

Emma comes crashing down with a huge bang the morning after the night before. She feels terrible after the party, her parents discover her on the front porch, curled up in a ball in the blazing sunshine, obviously the worse for wear. The life that Emma led, where she was the centre of everything disappears when she opens her Facebook page and finds picture after picture after picture ..... and the comments, so many comments ...

slut, skank, bitch, whore
slut, skank, bitch, whore

Emma sees pink flesh, legs splayed, delicate, bruised, ripped apart.  Everyone else sees it too; her friends, her brother, her teachers, her parents, her neighbour, the Priest.

Asking For It is one of those books that I started reading and then really struggled to put it down. During the reading time I went through so many emotions as Louise O'Neill unfolds this story. I was angry, very fucking angry.  I was so so sad.  I was also ashamed. I was ashamed because although Asking For It is a fictional story and the characters are not real and this didn't happen; we all know full well that things like this do happen all the time. There are women who are raped and who will suffer because of it for the rest of their lives, and sadly, it won't be the physical injuries that will affect them the most, it will be the memory of how people treated them afterwards.

If Louise O'Neill set out to explore why so often, women and girls are blamed, shamed and shunned, and rapists are excused, pardoned and given sympathy, she has completely nailed it. She gets into the heads of everyone involved with the case, and also those who have an opinion and exposes the shameful way that victims of rape are treated.

Emma isn't the nicest of characters, she's selfish and self-centred and seems oblivious to the hurt that she can inflict on those around her, and this is one of the strengths in Asking For It. Louise O'Neill could have created a different Emma, she could have been sweet and innocent, and kind, she could have been the best friend that anyone could ask for, she could have been brave and strong and defeated the shamers. But she didn't. Emma is typical of many eighteen year old girls today; smart, sexy, self-aware. She's determined to have the best, to be the prettiest. She doesn't mind if her girlfriends attract a boy, but she has to make sure that the boy notices her too, that her friends are aware that she could, if she wanted to, take that boy from them.  This hard surface is covering a quite vulnerable and not quite so confident interior. Emma does have her issues, her worries and her insecurities and all of these come to the fore when those photographs do the rounds on Facebook.

Asking For It is a bang up-to-date story, Louise O'Neill has bravely addressed the issues that remain in our society today. We think that we've moved on, we think we've left behind the Jimmy Savilles and the Rolf Harris, we think that women are equal and have a voice. But still, almost every month, we read something else, we hear those words; 'Asking for it', we learn of the cross-examination of victims; how their private lives are discussed sneeringly in court, their choice of dress is sniffed at. Important women, who should be role models speak out, women like Chrissie Hynde, Whoopi Goldberg, Serena Williams, strong independent successful women, yet with just a few words they add to the shaming and blaming.

Emma was #NotAskingForIt.  Women all over the world are #NotAskingForIt - this book is an incredibly well written, very brave and extremely important one. This will be one of my Top Ten Reads of 2015, without a doubt.

I bought my hardcover copy of Asking For It from Waterstones, Nottingham.

Louise O'Neill was born in west Cork in 1985. 

She studied English at Trinity College Dublin and has worked for the senior Style Director of AmericanElle magazine. 

While in New York, she also worked as an assistant stylist on a number of high-profile campaigns. 

She is currently working as a freelance journalist for a variety of Irish national newspapers and magazines, covering feminist issues, fashion and pop culture. 

Her website is louiseoneillauthor.com and you can find her on Twitter @oneilllo


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