Gemma Fraser in The F Word:
“They are all innocent until proven guilty. But not me. I am a liar until I am proven honest.”
Eighteen-year-old Emma O’Donovan is beautiful, confident and seems to have the world — and all the boys — at her feet. One summer night in her small Irish hometown she heads off to a house party where she plans to drink and have fun with her friends, and hopefully catch the attention of one of the local football heroes. The next day she wakes slumped in her front porch, in pain, and with no memory of what took place the night before. But as explicit images start to appear on social media of Emma engaging in sexual acts with a group of boys, she, her family and the town of Ballinatoom are forced to confront some difficult questions. Can you really consent if you’re intoxicated? Was Emma “asking for it” by dressing and behaving provocatively? And does it even matter what happened to you if you can’t remember? Louise O’Neill doesn’t allow the reader to witness Emma’s assault (the sole small mercy she grants) so we are left just as unclear about what happened that night as Emma herself. The first half of the book details the events leading up to the party while the second leaps forward a year, when Emma is pursuing a legal case against the boys — and suffering the consequences of speaking out.
Her parents believe they have raised Emma to be “a good girl” but her active sex life and drinking habits affect how the people of Ballinatoom view her and her culpability. Many see her actions as a selfish attempt to ruin the lives of the town’s sporting heroes, and her inbox is constantly flooded with insults and threats. “No one forced the drink down her throat, or made her take shit,” says one local girl. “And what guy was going to say no if it was handed to him on a plate?” Even Emma’s own friends doubt her story. (“You know I’m on your side, right?… I was just asking if it was, like, rape rape.”)