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Book Review: Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

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After being extremely disappointed in The Female of the Species, I wanted to read another book that examines rape culture and everyday misogyny and I found this at my library. And guess what? Asking For It was everything I wanted from The Female of the Species and most importantly, it delivered. It is a fresh and utterly heartbreaking examination of the way we treat our girls vs our boys. and you know how people say this book or that should be on every high school curriculum. I have never felt so passionate that this book should be in the hands of every teen everywhere.

Set in contemporary Ireland, this story revolves around Emma O’Donovan, a high school teen. This book is split into two parts, “Last year” following Emma before she was raped and then “This year” following how she is coming to terms with it.

One of the many, many things I loved about this book is the way our main character is written. Usually, authors will write the rape victim as a sort of quiet outsider who is naturally and instantaneously sympathetic. However Emma, our protagonist, embodies a lot of qualities that you usually don’t associate with YA protagonists. She’s beautiful and she knows it, flaunting it at every turn; she is selfish and superficial and she is a shitty friend. She is by all accounts a mean girl. I just really liked that this character existed in this type of story because many of us cannot instantly connect with her. She is everything a victim blamer accuses when a girl is raped. She was wearing something too low cut. She took drugs. She shouldn’t have been out alone. So because of all these, she deserved to be raped. Even in the aftermath, her friends tell her about all the shitty things she’s done telling her that she deserved it. But O’Neill shows you how ridiculous that statement is. How can someone ask for rape? And it’s absolutely heartbreaking seeing her so confident to self-doubting herself and feeling like her body doesn’t even belong to her in the second half of the book. What’s interesting about the characters in general is that they are just so real and they are less a product of this culture so much that they are perpetrators of this insidious culture. There is no audience character stand in to fight for rights. For example, her brother tells her not to wear skimpy clothing which is the exact moment Emma stares pointedly at the picture of the bikini model on his wall.

‘What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”

‘I don’t know, Em.’..’It’s a bit slutty, isn’t it’

I stare pointedly at the FHM poster tacked onto the wall opposite the bed, of some topless model, one finger in her mouth, the other hand reaching into her knickers.

‘That’s different.’

And yet her brother is the one that stands up for her wholeheartedly after she was raped even when her mom and dad wouldn’t.

In most other books about rape, the line for rape is clearly defined but not so in this one where consent is dubious. Of course, yes means yes, and no means no but in a real situation, it’s not so simple. O’Neill sees where these perceptions of victim blaming and rape culture come from but seeing Emma afterwards blaming herself and believing these harmful societal “truths”, she asks us to reevaluate these perceptions that have become so deeply entrenched in our society, how they stamp girls like Emma worthless burying her worth under judgemental stereotypes and making the other characters feel as though her worth can be reduced to a “punishment”, but more devastatingly a “deserved punishment”.

The aftermath is especially heartbreaking because parts of it reminded me of the Stanford cause where the perpetrator himself was supported and people empathized with him because his career was ruined and they blamed her. Never mind the trauma that she has to face for the rest of her life. Through claustrophobic writing and the aching deterioration of Emma’s health, you understand why women don’t come out and convict the rapist. You understand the exhausting ordeal of bringing the case to trial that takes up to 2 years to resolve.

Of course, none of this would be half as well conveyed if it weren’t for O’Neill’s brilliant writing. First off, I can’t attest to this one but a lot of people have said how very accurate the depiction of what it’s like to be an Irish teen. The first half is very dialogue-heavy which works so well with Asking For It because the way she writes dialogue is so uncanny. It is so realistic and true that I feel as if I know exactly which person in my life has said what line in this book. O’Neill has this writing style when it comes to parentheses. The flashbacks aren’t pages and pages of Emma’s past in between the present. Instead a character will allude to something that we don’t know about and Emma will quickly flashback to how she felt about that event in parentheses. Or Emma will say something but think something completely different.

She pulls down the sun visor and watches me in the mirror to see my reaction. I laugh too. (Fucking bitch)

It does take some time to get use to but it’s really effective once you get the hang of it.

The ending is “bleakly ambiguous” as the author points out in her afterword. There’s no heroics, no “girl power” moments, no wish-fulfillment, no epic showdown, no resolution for Emma. And as depressing as it was, it made so much more of an impact on me and brings the concept that this isn’t about winning or losing or even getting justice. It’s about changing the perceptions we have about rape, its sexist origins, its perpetrators, and its victims. The theme should be nothing new and yet time and time again, the news (most recently in India) shows how we trivialize sexual assault. Therein lies the odd and tiring contradiction: As boys grow older, they are pressured into having sex and with lots of partners. And as girls grow older, they are pressured not to or not to have many partners, not to wear anything revealing, not to drink, not to walk alone, not to get attention. Where, I ask you, is the compromise?

I don’t even know if this review is coherent but there are just no words to describe how cutting this book is. Please read it.

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book review · Uncategorized

Book Review: The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

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I decided to give this book a shot after hearing it was such an insightful deconstruction of rape culture and everyday misogyny. Instead what I got was that odd feeling of reading a different book than everyone else and a lot of wasted potential.

Three years ago, Alex Craft’s sister was raped and murdered and now Alex spends her time getting violent revenge on those those who have wronged women. We follow two other perspectives: one is from Jack who is the school’s golden boy who’s really interested in Alex and Peekay, the preacher’s kid who befriends Alex. She is dealing with the aftermath of breaking up with her boyfriend and seeing him with someone else. Both Jack and Peekay form friendships with Alex throughout the book. It fits mostly into the coming of age of YA contemporary.

What could have been an amazing look at victim blaming and slutshaming in our culture right now especially in high school turned into such a generic story. Where did it all go wrong? First of all, one that thing that stood out to me was the overcliched romance. Popular jock (Jack) is in love with Alex, the outcast girl. Can it get any more cliche just from the setup alone? Jack’s perspective was all about how interested he was in Alex and what a special snowflake he thought she was

Other girls push the dress code, showing a solid few inches of cleavage or leggings that hug so tight you don’t need an imagination…But Alex is different, remarkable because her clothes are utterly nondescript.

But Jack’s perspective is apparently about more than just the generic romance. A lot of reviews I’ve seen have said that Jack stands for the male gaze and the ingrained problematic views that comes with that privilege. If that’s the case, then Jack’s point of view is completely useless because there is no sense of development or even reassertion of these so called problems. The quote mentioned above is a problem of sexism, of girls having to reject their femininity in order to be considered worthy, but Jack never changes this perspective throughout the book consistently commenting on how Alex is different. And simply stating a problem is not going to cut it if you want to start a conversation about this important topic. It’s like my friend telling me her house got robbed and not telling me how she felt about it. Aside from that, I never thought I really got to know Jack (what does he even like??) or for that matter any of the other characters including Peekay and even the main character herself.

Peekay spends the novel dealing with the aftermath of breaking up with her boyfriend. She gets the most development out of all the perspectives. Peekay is sort of a stand in for girl on girl hate. She consistently slut shames her ex’s current girlfriend  Branley (the hot IT girl at school). I liked her story the most as she comes to realize that Branley is just a human being who likes sex. I liked these aspects but they always felt only surface level to me, never reaching the kind of character depth that I was craving.

Alex, our main character, dishes out nuggets of wisdom on misogyny but it always feels out of place like the author put these thoughts here without any proper context. Plot events happen so that these nuggets could be placed. Like aha! this is an example of victim blaming wink wink. In fact, I wish the author just made a list of all the everyday sexism that exists and it wouldn’t have made a difference. As with the other main characters, I never felt I knew Alex. The fact that she gets revenge on her sister’s killer by murdering him (not a spoiler, it happens in the first two pages) doesn’t have any sense of weight let alone repercussion until the very end. That could be excused because Alex is a sort of wish fulfillment character, a character that acts on what some women feel or want to do about the injustices put on them but the whole reason she did this was because of her sister and I never even got to know about her sister. She is a vague presence in the novel and if the author spent even a little bit of time developing her, I would understand Alex’s motivations, her attitudes, and it would have made the story’s themes that much stronger.

Characters aside, the plot was again so much wasted potential. The “shady” characters devolve into stereotypical “back alleyway” stereotypes of rapists portrayed in the media. The book also ends in a “showdown” of sorts which completely reduces Branley to the jealous girlfriend type that is so common in korean dramas and completely degrading to her as a character. This book is suppose to be about sending messages as to how slut shaming and victim blaming and not judging someone by how many sexual partners a girl has and Branley was the target of a lot of those but in the end, her character was given no justice, reduced to another trope when the whole novel hints that she was someone other than what Peekay made her out to be, the deconstruction of the stereotypical “bitch”. The ending takes away from all that progress that the author was trying to tell us. There is no sense of growth, of realization, of irony or deconstruction of the social commentary that the author was trying to point out this entire novel! Instead, what I got was a sort of martyred wish fulfillment ending that feels false and doesn’t solve anything. These problems haven’t been solved yet so it’s fine that the book can’t solve it but it doesn’t raise any thought provoking questions either.

I get the author’s intent and I admire it; she talks about the subtle ways that society treats women compared to men. I also especially love this quote.

Tonight they used words they know, words that don’t bother people anymore. They said bitch. They told another girl they would put their dicks in her mouth. No one protested because this is our language now.

This is such a great concept to explore; it has multiple facets and ideas hidden in it. But it was just sort of thrown in there. Unfortunately, the generic story and generic characters and lack of any sort of development and nuance to both characters and plot just kill (pun not intended) any sense of an insightful look inside any of these issues she sought to criticize

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Uncategorized · wrap up

June 2016 Wrap Up: In Which You Hear my Voice for the first time

I tend to be super ranty in my wrap-ups and I sometimes just want to spew my thoughts out without having to revise and edit my writing. So I thought why not talk about it instead? So what I did was I recorded a minipodcast for 2 of the books where you can just hear my thoughts on the book (What We Saw & The Unexpected Everything). I’m actually kind of nervous about this because I absolutely hate listening to my own voice; it’s so cringey. But anyways, let me know if you enjoy or hate them and if I should keep doing this format in the future.

On to the books I read in June!

To start off, I read 3 books set in Korea or by Korean authors this month which I reviewed in one mashup review post; it includes Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin (meh), The Vegetarian (loved), Shelter (loved even more than The Vegetarian).

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1627I read Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx which inspired the well-awarded movie of the same title starring Jake Gyllenhal and guy-I-don’t-know-the-name-of-but-looks-like-Matt Damon. I absolutely adored her descriptions of the wild landscapes and it makes me want to go camping which btw, is a feat unto itself because the outdoors is definitely not my forte. It’s a tragic short story involving two cowboys who fall in love but don’t know how to be together. It spans years and Proulx does a great job making me feel that all this time has passed, with just the right mix of nostalgia and sadness. I highly recommend. You can read it here.


Going back to my YA roots, I read What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

So sorry for the long awkward pauses LOL. omigosh I’m so awkward..Anyways, the article I was reading from can be read here.


And continuing on with my year of plays, I read Inherit the Wind by 

253264Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. I can see why this was required reading at my high school. It’s very accessible but the questions asked can incite so much discussion. It’s a fictionalied version of the 1925 Scopes trial where an unassuming teacher is put on trial for teaching evolution. Reading this play makes you want to slap 85% of the characters for their bullheaded ignorance. But then you realize that these people have always been taught that the Bible is the one and only truth and that some of these citizens are just following along with people that seem more experienced and knowledgeable like Harrison Brady but as soon as the case turns against him, the people are just as quick to change their minds.

It’s not about whether or not the Bible is right, it’s about letting people think for themselves. A quick but very compelling read.


I really need to read more cutesy contemporaries this month because I have sorely missed them. I started that train with The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson.

The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn

25322244I hate it when a potentially good book falls flat in the last 40 percent of the book. Like excuse me, you made me read the first half of you and then you let me down..

The premise of this book follows two sisters, one is very beautiful, perfect and polite in every way and one (Kate) is plain and very outspoken. Can you guess which one is the main character? *rolls eyes* Kate’s sister is to marry this season and Kate is very adamant that Anthony Bridgerton (idk what he even does but he’s rich ok what else do you need to know) not marry her sister because he is a rake and not husband material.

You know what, I enjoy a well-done cliche. And the beginning wasn’t too bad. It had echoes of Pride and Prejudice and witty banter that I love so much in books. Too bad the rest of the book was mostly just a cliche. My biggest problem with this book is the fact that every other page the author just has to remind the reader that Kate is unremarkable and plain compared to her sister and the more she does that the more I’m suppose to believe she is a special snowflake when she’s clearly not. I’m so incredibly tired of this trope and type of heroine that erotic historical romance seems to love. I IMPLORE YOU, IF YOU HAVE ANY HISTORICAL ROMANCE RECS THAT ARE GOOD PLEASE RECOMMEND THANKS. And if I give that rec a 4 stars or up, I will literally bow down to you.


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DNF

Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee-I adore the premise the book. It’s a scifi novel about a guy who is a champion boxer and boxes in
zero gravity. How cool is that? And the action scenes really, really shine. I can picture every punch and every suspenseful movement. But that’s pretty much all the praise I have for it. It suffers from an underdeveloped romance with a splash of not-like-other-girls trope and the flattest characters I’ve seen since the term flat character was defined. Also the worldbuilding was irritating. Like there was this one part where a fight is cancelled because one of the competitors took “endurance-enhancing nanos” which are steroids. Why not just say steroids if you’re not going to even bother explaining how the nanos are different than steroids. Just cause you put in fancy, sciency substitutes for names does not mean you have a different scifi world. I’m probably making this a bigger deal that it actually is. Take my thoughts with a grain of salt because it has a lot of good ratings on Goodreads.

 

27262793Railhead by Phillip Reeve– I’m gonna come out and say that this book has the most original and detailed and creative worldbuilding I’ve seen in a YA book in years. It’s got a train that can take you to different planets, weird bug shopkeepers, houses built on sides of waterfalls and jungle-like bridges. And it’s all cohesive!! Too bad the characters basically have no motivation for doing anything. And the dialogue itself needs its own editor.

 

 

 

How did your June reading month? Favorite read? Least favorite? And what are you planning on reading in July? =) On a scale of 1-10, how awkward were my podcasts LOL

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