Asking For It by Louise O’Neill is a young adult fiction novel about an 18-year-old girl named Emma O’Donovan who is in high school, but preparing for college. She has three friends that she spends time with and goes out with. She lives with her mother, father, and older brother – Bryan. Pretty early on, the author makes it clear that Emma is beautiful and that she is used to receiving a lot of attention because of her looks. She compares herself to her friends and seems to tolerate them rather than actually enjoy their company. In the beginning of the book Emma enjoys a fairly busy social life hanging out with her friends and going to classmates’ parties. However, things change one seemingly normal Saturday night. Bryan had purchased a hotel stay for their parents’ anniversary as a gift; his plan while they were gone was to invite his girlfriend, Jennifer, over so they could watch movies. Emma decides to take advantage of the fact that their parents would be staying at a hotel too and invites a few friends over before heading to a party.
Her usual group of friends show up with their boyfriends and some of their boyfriend’s friends in tow. Her good friend and neighbor, Conor, also shows up; they spend time at her house drinking before heading over to the party at a classmate’s house. Eventually, they make their way to the party where Emma continues drinking. There are guys a little older than Emma at this party and Emma is wearing a black dress that barely reaches her knees and the top comes down to her navel. She hopes to impress or get the attention of Jack Dineen, the guy she has a crush on at school. She was about to chat Jack up at this party, when one of her friends, Ali, finds her and explains that she has a problem with Jamie. Ali leads Emma to this bathroom upstairs where Jamie is bent over the toilet. Ali doesn’t know what to do and wants Emma help figuring out how to help Jamie without having to go home themselves. They decide to call a taxi for Jamie to get her home safely so they can stay at the party; eventually Conor offers to drive Jamie home since nobody has the money to afford the taxi for Jamie anyway.
When Emma finally has the chance to return to the room where Jack is, she finds that another girl is sitting in his lap, Jack doesn’t seem to notice that Emma has returned to the room and doesn’t seem to have any intent of asking this new girl to please move. Emma gets annoyed that she’s not the one sitting in Jack’s lap when she notices Paul sitting in a chair nearby and staring at her. She goes up to him to chat him up – ultimately in the hopes of making Jack jealous or at least notice her. She notices Paul giving something to another person at the party and when she asks him what it was, he offers her some believing she will not accept it. When she does accept, he gives her some and she takes it right there in front of him. She doesn’t know what it is that she has taken, but most readers can tell that she took MDMA. Eventually the drug begins to take effect on Emma; she weaves her way through people at the party and her memory begins to get a bit fuzzy as we are given bits and pieces of what is happening as Emma remembers it. First, she kisses her best friend’s boyfriend, Eli then proceeds to dance on the dance floor before Paul comes to retrieve her. However, Maggie, Eli’s girlfriend and Emma’s, more than likely former best friend are not pleased with Emma’s behavior.
After Paul is able to get Emma away from the dance floor, they head upstairs where she leads him into the master bedroom. There Paul and Emma have sex – even though it seems that Emma begins to have second thoughts about the decision to have sex with Paul. After they finish, she is getting ready to leave when three of Paul’s friends show up in the bedroom – they are Dylan, Sean and a mutual friend of Paul and Emma’s named Fitzy. All boys have been drinking, but only Paul and Emma have taken MDMA. One of the boys raids the parent’s medicine cabinet and finds small blue pills (Viagra) and they all decide to take some. Since Emma doesn’t want to be left out she pops a pill too and decides to go to another party with them. After this party, Emma pretty much blacks out and doesn’t remember anything from the rest of the night. However, the boys had a great time with Emma and even Snapchatted a few of their escapades during the night. The next day, a Facebook page titled “Easy Emma” was online and featured screen captures of the Snapchat videos from the night.
Emma was found the following day on the front porch, unconscious by her parents when they return from their hotel stay. Nobody knows what happened to Emma and her parents have a very difficult time getting Emma inside the house. She has to be taken to the doctor for a check up since they didn’t know what was wrong with Emma and Emma couldn’t tell them. The doctor diagnosed Emma with dehydration or sunstroke and recommended rest which her parents let her do, but when Monday came around Emma’s mother made her go to school. Nobody at school wanted to hang around Emma and all of her friends were mad at her for various reasons. Other girls were mad at her too because she was a little too friendly to a lot of girls’ boyfriends that night. Eventually one of Emma’s teachers sees the Facebook page regarding Emma from that night and reports the incident to the school counselor who had to report it to authorities. Next, Emma finds herself filing a complaint and making a statement against the four boys about that night because others had indicated she was raped since she was unconscious after a certain point in the night.
Emma seems to be having a hard time dealing with the incident itself and everyone’s reactions to the aftermath of the incident. It seems Emma did not wish to pursue any complaints against the boys and her true desire was to forget the whole thing had happened. She even lied stating she was pretending to sleep and that it was all a big joke, but that didn’t seem to deter anyone. It’s clear that Emma has tried to commit suicide a few times since the incident occurred and she is now taking medications for depression and suicidal ideation. In the end, Emma chooses to withdraw her complaint hoping that her life, her family’s life and the lives of those she accused could go back to normal – as normal a life as possible for them all. The story was intriguing to me and I just had to find out what happened to Emma and what she would do about it. Reading this book made me change my mind about how I react to stories involving sexual assault allegations; I usually feel more sympathy for the victim regardless of whether there is credible evidence to back their claims. However, this book made me rethink that thought process. Although I don’t believe that any person, male or female, asks to be sexually assaulted or raped, I don’t believe that Ms. Emma O’Donovan did herself any favors in this situation either.
I’m not suggesting that she can’t wear what she wore or drink, but I am suggesting that taking a drug (or two) without any idea of what they are is not a good idea and definitely increases your chances of something happening without your consent. Emma made a series of bad decisions that night and some of what happened to her could have been avoided had she made different decisions that night. I usually want victims to pursue their cases even if they’re difficult cases to prove, but in Emma’s case, I thought it was a smart move for her to withdraw her complaint. In her case, the whole incident is complicated because they were friends of hers, she seemed to consent to some kind of sexual act with Paul before things got further out of hand and she couldn’t remember anything that happened after a certain point that night. Taking the case to court for a jury to decide would highlight all of the areas where the defense attorneys could sew doubt. It doesn’t seem worth the hardship she would have to go through to prove her case and prove the boys guilty.
Overall the story is interesting; I’m not sure I would read the book again, but it does present some issues surrounding the debate around consent, rape and sexual assault in numerous societies around the world and especially in America. I would recommend this book to any young adult 20 years or older who is interested in reading a fiction novel dealing the topics mentioned above or to anyone interested in reading a fiction novel different from what they normally read. I do not recommend this book to anyone under the age of at least 18 due to the sex scenes and adult content. I purchased this book at Barnes and Noble while there was sale, the book available there for $10.99 or you can get it on Amazon for $7.88 (a Prime item too!). I tried to find this book in my local library, but wasn’t able to and now I understand why. You may be able to find a copy via your local library, so I recommend hopping online to check their catalog.
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