I’m going to preface this review with this fact: The scores I give in my book reviews are based on a rigid system – a system I’ll be posting about to further explain over the next few days. The scores are aimed to give a general feel for a book, not its overall quality. As you’ll see in this review, Asking For It is much more than a 74% book in terms of importance and power. Sadly, in my rigid scoring system, it’s limited to 74%.
I always knew I’d read a book and the score wouldn’t reflect my enjoyment of it. Asking For It has been the book to do that and it is a testament to how good it is as a book. Now that that’s out of the way, onto the review!
Asking For It is the second novel from Irish author Louise O’Neill, a young and promising talent who I had the good fortune of meeting last year. The book takes on rape culture in a direct and honest approach. O’Neill tackles society’s standing on rape and how it is viewed, particularly in small communities. Asking For It is set in a small town in Ireland and between that, the protagonist’s school and the claustrophobic world of social media, the uncomfortable truth about communal thinking is brought to the forefront.
The biggest strengths in Asking For It are not how it deals with the subject of rape, however. Self-identity, depression, anxiety and many more common mental health issues are addressed and it is this drives Asking For It forward emotionally. The situation is extreme and an important one, yet the more common topics of mental health keep the book open and approachable. The balance keeps the reader engaged, while keeping the focus on rape culture and the effects it has on victims of rape. (Are they victims? One of many questions raised.) As someone who has not experienced rape and, to my knowledge, does not know anyone who has, O’Neill did a fantastic job in making the topic resonate with me. I did not need to understand the trauma of rape to understand the trauma of the protagonist.
[This is the first book in a long time that moved me anywhere near the amount that Frankenstein – my all time favourite – gets at my emotions.]
Unfortunately, while Asking For It is an important book I’d recommend to everyone – teenagers as much as adults – the writing itself has some things that disappointed me:
- The characters were, for the most part, bland caricatures. The wealthy family with the snobbish mother and disappointing child. The nice guy who is the right choice, but gets abused. Even Emma, who is the narrator of the story, only held interest to such a point. Had it not been for the impact of the plot, I’d have set the book aside. Asking For It will be on my mind for a long time. It’s characters, not so much.
- There’s a fine balance between effective repetition and annoying repetition. I’m still not 100% sure where I stand on the repetitive phrases in this book – bitch, skank, whore, slut. At times it felt overdone.
- The ending, which I don’t want to reveal too much about, was disappointing. While I wasn’t a fan of the ending, I’d have accepted it for its importance, had it not been so rushed. With about 20 pages to go, Emma makes a u-turn without much build up to it. As a result, the ‘twist’ in her thinking feels forced and, seeing as the book ends soon after, it felt like the novel had simply ran out of legs.
But don’t let all that hinder your desires to pick up this book. While these three points held the book back in my eyes, I can easily see arguments against them. If this were a college essay, I’d be able to hold a very in-depth debate with myself over those points. They are very much opinions on the stylistic choices and, unfortunately for me, they are points I know my fiancé will smack me over the head for thinking.
Asking For It is a fantastic book overall and despite being branded as a young adult writer, Louise O’Neill’s books are just as suitable for adults. I’d urge you to pick this one up and if fancy a good ol’ dystopian, her first novel Only Ever Yours (review coming soon!) is also a great read.