Cover of Asking for It by Louise O'Neill. A wooden, articulated doll, shot from the waist down

About the Book

Title: Asking For It
Published: 2015

Cover Story: Hey, Doll
Drinking Buddy: Yes
Testosterone Estrogen Level: Dear God…
Talky Talk: Frustrated Growl
Bonus Factor: Awesome Brother
Bromance Status: I Believe in You

Content warning: sexual assault, rape

Cover Story: Hey, Doll

I like it. Nice, simple visual commentary on the objectification of women. The paperback version, of course, had to screw it up with the giant teen face.

Cover of the paperback version of Asking For It by Louise O'Neill. A closeup of a crying white girl's face

The Deal:

Irish teenager Emma O’Donovan is one of the most beautiful girls in her school. The guys chase her, the less attractive girls vie for her friendship. Life is pretty good.

Until one night she goes to a party. Has a bit to drink. Takes some ecstasy. And then wakes up the next morning on her front porch, sunburned and with her dress on backward. She has no memory of what happened the previous night.

But when she gets to school, no one will talk to her. The friends who worshiped Emma now call her a slut and threaten her. The guys laugh. And then a video surfaces on Facebook. Emma, naked, in bed. With about a half-dozen guys.

Everyone has seen it. Everyone. Her brother, her father, her priest, and anyone with an internet connection: pretty, popular Emma, laying in bed, naked, her legs wide open.

And then things get worse.

Drinking Buddy: Yes

A pitcher and glass of milk

Sorry, I thought the beer image would be in poor taste here.

When the shit hits the fan, Emma has a complete breakdown. She drops out of school refuses to leave the house, won’t eat, and tries to hurt herself. She never asked for this. She never asked for any of this. She never wanted to be a victim, nor did she want to be a hero.

But then again, no one wants that.

It’s not okay, Emma. But we believe you.

Testosterone Estrogen Level: Dear God…

You can see it coming. When the images first came out, Emma panicked, said it was all consensual, and declined to get a rape screening.

But when the video starts to spread, and when she fully realizes what had happened, she decides to fight back. They had no right. It’s all there on film. They can’t get away with this.

And sides are immediately drawn. Emma becomes a hashtag, with women around the world relating how they’ve been there, how they believe her, how they’ll stand by her.

But they’re in the minority. You know the drill.

What did she think would happen when she went into that bedroom?

She’s had sex before. A lot of sex.

Girls today, they have no sense of modesty.

Just boys being boys.

Is she really going to ruin their lives over one crazy night?

Just doing it for attention.

She’s embarrassed that she got caught.

TV and newspaper pundits argue about what really happened (like they were there). Random people e-mail Emma, calling her a whore who should kill herself. When she ventures out of the house, she risks running into her attackers, who, more often than not, laugh at her. Tourism in her small town falls off. Her parents suffer, both at work and socially. Their marriage starts to collapse. Her father won’t look at her.

Emma is broken. Ruined. Disgusting.

Wouldn’t it be easier if she just…pretended this never happened?

Talky Talk: Frustrated Growl

This, obviously, is not a book to read when you want a pick me up. The sheer hopelessness of Emma’s situation makes me understand why some victims simply choose to put the experience behind them, rather than report it to law enforcement.

In fact, what disturbed me the most were things that happened before the assault. The way Emma implied that this wasn’t the first time a boy had gotten too forceful, and that sometimes it’s just easier to go along with a guy than to try to stop him.

I won’t throw a bunch of statistics at you, but this is an epic problem. And when someone does have the courage to come forward, it’s easy to confuse who’s really on trial. Emma’s watched enough cop shows to know what she’s in store for:

So how much did you have to drink that night?

How many sexual partners would you save you’ve had?

You actually texted your so-called assailant the next day?

Did you not initially tell the police that you were not, in fact, unconscious?

Now this book did have some issues. The first hundred pages kind of dragged. We’re bombarded with so many of Emma’s friends, classmates, and friends’ parents that they all sort of ran together. And the contents of the Facebook video was a tad over-the-top. You film yourself urinating and vomiting on an unresponsive girl, it’s going to be kind of hard to argue consent.

But all in all, this was a powerful, intense book about a subject too little discussed.

Bonus Factor: Awesome Brother

Dan Akroyd and John Belushi as the Blues Brothers

Emma has a college-age brother, Bryan, who is one of the few likeable guys in the book. He looks out for his sister, and doesn’t try to sweep the issue under the rug like his parents do. Emma also has a friend, Connor, who continues to send unanswered e-mails to Emma, unaware how just hearing from a friend who hasn’t betrayed her improves her mood.

Someday, God forbid, any of us may be in their shoes. Think long and hard about how you react.

Bromance Status: I Believe in You

Maybe I prefer funnier, more lighthearted books, but I’m glad I read you. I’ll see that other people do as well.

Here are some international rape crisis sites.

Here’s a powerful Tumblr account, featuring people relating what their assailant said to them. Not all the victims are women.

FTC full disclosure: I received no money for writing this review.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.