Asking for It
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that 2017 Michael J. Printz Honor Book Asking for It, by Irish author Louise O'Neil (Only Ever Yours), is about a teen girl in Ireland who's gang-raped after drinking and taking pills and falling unconscious at a party; then pictures and videos of this violent scene are posted on Facebook. The novel takes on the difficult topics of rape and consent in harrowing fashion. The violent imagery is haunting, and the book doesn't provide answers. But it raises a lot of questions that should be talked about by parents and teens about rape, consent, double standards, victim blaming, social media, what gives a person value to society, how to instill respect for self and others in children and teens, and so much more. Teens and young adults frequently drink lots of different kinds of alcohol to excess at parties, often including stolen cough syrup. They raid parents' medicine cabinets and take unspecified prescription drugs while drinking, later speculated to be MDMA (ecstasy). There are disturbing, detailed descriptions of the posted pictures and videos of the gang assault and rape of an unconscious victim; they're not gory, but images from the pictures are mentioned frequently. (The phrase “pink flesh, splayed legs” is repeated often as the memory of the photos flash through Emma's mind, though she has no memory of actual events.) There are no consequences for the perpetrators, but the victim feels she's ruined everyone's lives. There are suicide attempts that aren't narrated in detail. A past rape is vaguely discussed. Author O'Neill expresses the hope in the afterword that talking about these matters will lead to a society in which sexual assault is rare. Parents and teens will benefit from this framework for thinking and talking about the difficult issues raised.
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What's the Story?
Just after her 18th birthday, Emma goes to a party at a friend's house. All the usual crowd are there, and all eyes are on the beautiful Emma. But Emma's becoming increasingly stifled by small-town life and is tired of everyone thinking they know who she really is. So in addition to the usual excessive drinking, Emma unexpectedly takes some pills from the guy she wants to hook up with. The next thing she knows, she wakes up in very bad shape on her own front porch with no more than a vague memory from the night before. Later she learns that a Facebook page was created with dozens of graphic photos and videos showing that she was repeatedly raped by the town's well-liked sports heroes while she was unconscious. Branded a whore and worse, Emma and everyone else is asking if she deserved what she got and if she was ASKING FOR IT. How can she prove she didn't consent? And how can she possibly put her and her family's lives back together after everyone has seen those horrible photos?
Is It Any Good?
This harrowing examination of sex and sexual assault for teens and young adults is a great starting place for teens to think and talk about these issues and how they affect their own lives. Rather than laying out answers, O’Neill illustrates the questions we should be asking about rape, consent, victim blaming, and so much more that it deserves the broadest possible audience and to be widely discussed by teens, parents, and educators.
With the precision of a scalpel, O’Neill delicately carves out the subtlest ways Emma learns that beauty is supreme and with equal accuracy hammers home the double standard that still applies to both women and men. The images are haunting, the topic is difficult, and the ending is frustrating yet sadly all too believable.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about rape, consent, and blaming the victim. Was Emma asking for it? What should she have expected would happen? Why does she blame herself?
What do you think about the descriptions of violence in Asking for It? Are they necessary to understand what happened to Emma and to see how the Facebook images of her assault affected those who saw them?
Emma says that teens are well aware of the dangers of drinking and driving but that no one talks about other ways to ruin lives. Would you say that's true for your school, too? What would you like to know about?
- Author: Louise O'Neill
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, High School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Quercus
- Publication date: April 5, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 336
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: July 13, 2017
Our Editors Recommend
Only Ever Yours
Disturbing, riveting dystopian novel skewers beauty values.
Controversial book about rape is powerful and painful.
What We Saw
Thought-provoking story about consent and truth.
For kids who love coming-of-age books and stories that deal with consent
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