Rape in YA Fiction: ‘All the Rage’ by Courtney Summer and ‘Asking For It’ by Louise O’Neill

Rape cases have made huge waves in recent years. I’m sure many of you followed the Steubenville case that hit headlines in 2013, and the Turner case in 2015. With the media latching onto these two prominent cases, a few questions made their way into the home. Firstly, why does it seem that the woman is always to blame? Secondly, how often do rapists pay for their crimes? We’ve also talked about huge issues likely to influence a verdict such as race, the use of alcohol and drugs, the perpetrator’s extracurriculars (read: sport)…

With these thoughts in mind, I endeavoured to read two YA novels that I knew faced these issues head-on.

The first of these is All the Rage by Courtney Summers. I was super excited to read this book. A few years ago, I fell in love with her This Is Not A Test and have been itching to read more from her ever since.

All the Rage follows the story of Romy. After a wild night, Romy is found half-naked on the street, the words ‘Rape Me’ scrawled on her stomach. She knows she was raped. But she was drunk, she’s pointing the finger at the boy she’d had an obvious crush on (the sheriff’s son, no less!), and she’s not pressing charges. No one believes her.

The same night and at the same party, popular girl Penny disappears. Romy clearly has something to do with it, and as a result, no one wants anything to do with her.

Romy is wracked with PTSD and feels utterly and completely alone. She manages to find the slightest of solace in her work, located out of town so no one there knows her story. But you can’t work forever, and Romy has no true escape from the horrors of that night.

Courtney Summers picked her words so carefully and managed to construct a story that completely captures Romy’s torment. This story is completely heartbreaking.

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The second novel I want to chat about is Asking for It by Louise O’NeillOf the two, this is probably the one that I found the most provocative.

For me, the absolute best part of this book was how much I hated the protagonist. Emma O’Donovan is a terrible person. She’s desperate to be the prettiest, the most wanted, the sexiest girl in the room. To the point where she is perhaps flirting with her friend’s boyfriend, to the point where she can’t stand hearing someone call her friend attractive.

Then the author brings in elements that are easily recognised by those of us who have followed rape cases in the media. Emma is known to sleep around. She’s wearing a short dress. She’s drinking and taking drugs. She makes out with her friend’s boyfriend! She’s a textbook case of a gal who’s just asking for it.

And it’s completely and utterly horrifying. She blacks out. The next day, photos are over the internet. She sees herself, unconscious, surrounded by multiple men. She sees men pissing on her. She was gang-raped, and everyone knows it.

But nobody cares. In their eyes, she was asking for it. She deserved it. The horror of her rape is tempered by Emma’s personality, intoxication and dress. It’s a terrifying parallel of real life victims who too are blamed.

And the ending? Some people loved it. Some people hated it. I definitely loved it. Somehow, it just felt like the right ending. It fit.

Ultimately, both of these novels dealt with these issues really, really well. It’s phenomenal to see YA literature taking a stand in the harder, more complex issues that do face real life young adults. Although the content itself means that these books will never be a joy to read, I undoubtedly believe that they are of the utmost importance and absolutely should be read.

Next on my to-read list? What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler. Released in 2015 inspired by real events, What We Saw is another contemporary YA novel that tackles rape culture. Hopefully, it deals with the matter in a way that is just as successful as the two novels I’ve talked about in this post.

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