Asking For It -- Book Review
Scorecard - 4 stars ****
I would have given it 3 1/2 stars, but the sheer importance of the subject matter bumps it up to a solid 4. It isn't an easy read, or a necessarily enjoyable one at that, but it's an important one, and I have to give O'Neill kudos for how well she dealt with such a simultaneously weighty and sensitive topic.
(Spoiler Free!) Summary
Slut, whore, bitch. She was asking for it. What did she expect?
Emma O'Donovan is an 18 year old high school student living in the small town of Ballinatoom, Ireland, where everybody knows everybody, and secrets are hard to keep, with gossip weaving its way through the village grapevine with ease and delight. Emma is popular, confident, and, as her mother reminds her every morning, beautiful, a trait which Emma treasures and isn't afraid to flaunt. Emma has big plans for the future--graduate school, go to university, live happily ever after with the (as of yet undiscovered) love of her life--but everything changes after one party: one night that leaves Emma without a single memory from the previous twelve hours and a million questions.
Why did she wake up on her front porch instead of in her bed? How did she get there? And why are her friends and family acting so differently around her? Pictures surface online as Emma tries to piece the events of that night together, but what she discovers will only lead to her world crumbling around her before her very eyes, bringing down those she loves the most with her. Haunting, harrowing and heart-breaking, Asking For It is a must read for anyone and everyone, as Louise O'Neill delves into the reality of rape culture in today's social media crazed digital age, in a novel that is all at once delicate and devastating.
Characterisation - Emma is not a particularly likeable person from the reader's perspective, but perhaps that's because we are able to delve into her mind, as the novel is written in the first person, and the reader is given access to her deepest, and at times rather wicked thoughts. This animosity towards Emma, especially at the start of the novel, however, is brilliant, as she is a well-crafted and true depiction of a young teenage girl, who suffers through the drama of adolescence on many different levels and scales. Emma, her friends, and in particular her family, all undergo certain transformations throughout the novel, which are somehow both immediately obvious while also slowly and expertly built upon.
The outside world - The novel does a great job of showing the domino effect for a situation that many assume would (and in some respects, often does) stay private, as it's not just Ballinatoom that is affected, but the whole world, as what happens that fateful night becomes national and eventually international news. O'Neill does an excellent job of depicting the impact and ever growing influence that social media and the digital world has on individual lives, noting how ease of communication and connection can be both positive, but more often than not (especially in Emma's case) is wholly negative. The uncontrollable scale of social media is brought to light, as campaigns are lead online in favour of and against “The Ballinatoom Girl”, both supporting and ridiculing her. O'Neill raises questions about online abuse, how it should be dealt with and at what point we can no longer ignore the detrimental effects of such anonymous cruelty.
I'm not going to lie to you, this was a very hard book to read. At one point, I had to put it down and give myself some space from it, craving something lighter that wouldn't weigh me down so much. But I've said it before and I'll say it again - this is the most important book I've read all year (maybe... ever?!) and for anyone who wants to learn more about victim blaming, rape culture, and even just the ways in which we treat and teach young girls to behave and act, only to punish them for this same behaviour later on, please pick up this book. It may take you some time to read it, (and have something funny to read on the side!) but trust me, you won't regret it.