Louise O’Neill: Asking For It (2015)


Publication date: 2015

Pages: 350

Word count: ?

Ages: YA

They are all innocent until proven guilty. But not me. I am a liar until I am proven honest.

What a book! I finished it a while ago but I’m still stunned. Sometimes you read a book and the topic shocks you. Then you read a book and the topic and your reaction shock you. This is what happened when I read Louise O’Neill’s brilliant novel Asking For It.

Asking For It is set in a small Irish town where everyone knows everyone. Eighteen-year-old Emma O’Donovan is the local beauty and most popular girl. There’s hardly a boy who can resist her and many girls want to be her friend. She loves to party, drinks, takes drugs and hooks up with random boys. You could say she’s pretty wild. One evening, like so often, she does drugs and has casual sex with a guy and then things get out of hands. The next afternoon, her parents find her asleep on the verandah with a serious sunburn and no idea what happened before and after she passed out. She’ll find out soon enough. Because someone filmed it and posted it on Facebook. Now she’s not popular anymore, she’s just a slut.

Emma’s first reaction is to suck it up and forget all about it but people tell her she has to report what happened as rape. From the moment, the word is said and charges are made, things go even further downhill for Emma. The ending was a real shocker but realistic.

It’s a sad and sobering story and the way it is told is so powerful and eye-opening because of Louise O’Neill’s choice of main protagonist. If Emma was just a beautiful, wild girl, it wouldn’t have had such an impact on me. I would have felt sorry for her and sided with her but Emma isn’t a likable character. On the contrary. She’s possibly the most obnoxious character I’ve ever come across. She’s narcissistic and has to be the center of attention all the time. She loves to steal other girls’ boyfriends or seduce the boys they fancy. She’s also jealous and downright nasty, mean, and offensive. Since she’s the first person narrator we get to know her very well. She’s a real piece of work.

At first I didn’t understand O’Neill’s choice of character but when I noticed my reaction, I got it. I’m ashamed to admit but my first thought was – she really had it coming. That gave me pause and I had to ask myself “seriously – because she’s unlikable she deserved what happened?” and that’s when I had to say – no, of course not. Nobody deserves something like this. And nobody is asking for it. And that’s when I began to admire Louise O’Neill’s choice because it shows what an explosive topic this is. What horrible reactions victims might have to face. It’s easy to feel empathy with a likable girl – wild or quiet – but obnoxious girls like Emma deserve understanding and support as well. Emma is a 21st century girl. In some ways she’s maybe an exaggeration, but in many other ways she’s not. Many Teenage girls drink, party, do drugs, and have casual sex but that doesn’t mean they are asking for being abused and raped. And they certainly don’t deserve it.

Asking For It looks at important aspects of the discussion around rape. Just because a girl/boy, woman/man was drunk or unconscious that doesn’t mean it’s not rape. Dressing in a provocative way, doesn’t mean someone wants to be touched  . . . It’s appalling that these things still need to be said. The idea that they are punished for behaving the wrong way is so deep-rooted that some women don’t even dare calling what happened to them rape. The book also shows how easily society turns against the victim.

Asking For It is powerful. The writing is strong and tight. Emma’s voice is so distinct, I could still hear her after I finished the book. The bragging Emma and the one that was shamed and humiliated. Sadly, Asking For It is an important book. We need books like this. They raise awareness, offer food for thought and topics for discussions. Documentaries like The Hunting Ground show all too well how real “rape culture” is.

This review first appeared on my blog Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

Fire by Kristin Cashore (2009)


Published by Dial Books in 2009

460 pages

112,634 words

Ages YA 

Did you ever shy away from reading another book by an author because you loved his or her first so much? That’s what happened after I read Kristin Cashore’s Graceling in 2008. I loved it so much that I didn’t read any of the sequels although I purchased the books as soon as they came out. Now, seven years after Fire came out, I finally picked it up. Was I disappointed? No and yes. I liked it a great deal but I didn’t love it as much as I loved Graceling. 

Fire is the story of Fire, the last human monster. A young woman so beautiful that she makes men do crazy things. But that isn’t Fire’s only striking feature. Like every monster, she can manipulate people’s thoughts. Fire lives in the kingdom Dell. A kingdom that is threatened by war. At the beginning of the novel, Fire is summoned to the court. With her ability to manipulate and read minds, she should question spies and help king Nash and his siblings Clara and Brigan, to detect the plans of their enemies. Fire is reluctant at first. She doesn’t use her power against people’s will but then she accepts and leaves her best friend and lover, Archer, behind and follows Brigan and his troops back to the king’s city.

Fire is a story of treachery and war. Courage and cowardice. Hope and despair. It’s suspenseful and well-plotted but that wasn’t what I liked about it. I loved the images Kristin Cashore evokes with her words. The monsters are such a great idea. The animals have the most striking fur. Golden or green cats with purple dots. Colorful mice and rats. Even bugs. I would definitely love to have a monster cat. There are also very dangerous red, yellow, and green raptors. Fire’s hair is – of course – fire-red. Monster’s love eating monster meat that’s why Fire is always in danger of being attacked by raptors. But they also attack other humans and are a constant threat. I could see these creatures, see the world they inhabit. Cashore is really a evocative writer and it was a joy to “see” her world.

I loved Fire. She is strong and true to herself. There are two love stories, one that’s about to end and a new one and both show that Fire chooses freely. No man can chain her. Another trait I loved is her love for animals. There are some wonderful animal characters in this story. Especially Fire’s horses and one small dog. Fire is a positive character but that doesn’t mean, she doesn’t have a darker side. She’s complex and quite often it takes her a while to act because she has to explore her heart. Before she isn’t sure that she only does what she wants and thinks is right, she won’t budge. I loved that Fire’s monstrosity and beauty allowed Cashore to explore topics as different as gender, relationships between men and women, having children or not – and all the topics tied to this like contraception, abortion, sterilisation – and many others.

I’m not entirely sure that one can call Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue a trilogy. They are set in the same realm but one could easily read only one of them. They do stand alone. As far as I know, Bitterblue, does bring the two first together. There are a few open questions in Fire, or rather we suspect that we might see a few things taken up again, so I would assume, Bitterblue isn’t in the same way a standalone. Be it as it may, I’m looking forward to reading it. I’m pretty certain, it will not take me another seven years before I do so.

Have you read any of the three “Graceling Realm” books? Which is your favourite?