When I received the email from Penguin suggesting Asking For It by Lilah Pace, I was a bit confused. Sure, I’d read some envelope-pushing authors in the past, but nothing quite like…this. Normally, I’m all about having my boundaries tested. I just wasn’t sure this was one I was willing to test.
Asking For It deals with a particular kind of kink that has a big, blinking, neon trigger warning sign. Vivienne’s a grad student at UT Austin, her days spent dealing with students, her own coursework, time in the studio, and her friends. She’s also seeing a therapist to deal with her shameful fantasies – she wants to be taken by force. More, those fantasies are the only way she can reach climax.
When Jonah overhears a humiliating conversation that should never have been public, he makes Vivienne an offer: his fantasy is the opposite of hers, and he thinks they can help each other. Initially reluctant and too entrenched in her shame, she refuses. But a little voice tells her this may be the safest way for her to explore it, and she gives in.
It’s supposed to be a scenario of mutual usage. It doesn’t end that way.
This book surprised the hell out of me, for a number of reasons. Viv’s shame was very real, and very realistic. She’s been in therapy for years, trying to overcome it, because it’s the only area of her life where she’s not…normal. And she’s otherwise very, very normal. She’s smart and snarky, willing to do almost anything for her friends. I particularly loved her interactions with Kip. Her response to Jonah’s offer was perfect; why should she do something that requires a huge amount of trust with a stranger?
I was a bit disappointed with how little we got into Jonah’s head. As their relationship grows past just sex, I wanted more from Jonah to explain what it was about Vivienne that would make him take that risk, and I didn’t get it. He’s meant to be an enigma, but I didn’t want him to stay an enigma.
Where the story really shines, though, is in its treatment of Vivienne’s fantasies. She knows what she wants is dangerous, and it’s why she’s never taken that step across the line to make it happen. When she agrees to meet with Jonah for the first time, the pair lay out some very clear, very hard and fast ground rules, and if they decide to scale one back, they don’t do it in the heat of the moment. What Viv and Jonah do fits inside the greater world of kink, and they treat it as such.
My trepidation over the subject matter faded within the first chapter. Pace’s voice is so strong and easy, the banter between the characters sometimes snort-inducing, that it makes Viv’s shameful moments that much more potent. There is no doubt she understands that what she’s tempted by is dark and completely foreign to most people. She can’t stand the thought of their horrified reactions, so she doesn’t talk about it. It’s not an easy subject to deal with, and Pace doesn’t gloss over it. She’s created a vibrant, complex heroine that you want to explore and cheer on.
What pulls Jonah and Viv together, and what ultimately drives them apart, is too deep and vast to cover in one book. The pair still have work to do and things to understand, about themselves and about each other. But the ending fits this story, and I’ll be coming back for more when Begging For It releases this fall.
Copy of Asking For It provided by the publisher in exchange for review.