Review: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

Donnerstag, 11. Februar 2016

What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler
Published: September 22nd 2015 by HarperTeen
Number of Pages: 336 Pages (Paperback)
Series: No

   Critically acclaimed memoirist Aaron Hartzler, author of Rapture Practice, takes an unflinching look at what happens to a small town when some of its residents commit a terrible crime. This honest, authentic debut novel—inspired by the events in the Steubenville rape case—will resonate with readers who've ever walked that razor-thin line between guilt and innocence that so often gets blurred, one hundred and forty characters at a time.
   The party at John Doone's last Saturday night is a bit of a blur. Kate Weston can piece together most of the details: Stacey Stallard handing her shots, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early. . . . But when a picture of Stacey passed out over Deacon Mills's shoulder appears online the next morning, Kate suspects she doesn't have all the details. When Stacey levels charges against four of Kate's classmates, the whole town erupts into controversy. Facts that can't be ignored begin to surface, and every answer Kate finds leads back to the same questions: Who witnessed what happened to Stacey? And what responsibility do they have to speak up about what they saw?
   National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti calls What We Saw "a smart, sensitive, and gripping story about the courage it takes to do what's right." (

Trigger warning: Rape.
Nothing is exactly as it appears. The closer you look, the more you see.
   What We Saw is a very honest and, at times, heartbreaking portrayal of a school dealing with four boys being accused of sexually assaulting a classmate during a party. The story is based on a real life high school rape case that happen in the US in 2012, though I've only really got to know that once I was done reading. I admit, that detail made the story seem even more shocking then it already was. As someone who wasn't in the US at the time I hadn't heard about the events surrounding the rape case before, though reading about it after I was done with What We Saw, it definitely made me happy that I am done with school and that, fortunately, something like that never happened at a school that I'd visited, while also making me wonder how the media could deal with something like this the way they had - the completely wrong way.
   The story is told through the eyes of Kate, a soccer playing girl who used to be friends with the victim in the past but not anymore at the time of the incident. The story deals with victim blaming, how important it is to look at all the facts, consider every option, instead of jumping to conclusions based on popularity and outfits, slut-shaming and, above all, the immense importance of consent.

“Well, I just think it’s awful what that Stallard girl is doing to them. Dragging their good names through the mud.”

   What really struck me was this sense of "it's her own fault" and "boys will be boys" that many of the teens showed, which was in many ways horrifying and, unfortunately not surprising. Those two phrases slip past your lips so easily yet weigh heavily because they excuse the assailants and their actions, teaching them that they have not done anything wrong, which as we all know, is not true. I really enjoyed seeing how Kate slowly started to really think about what happened, what it all really means, and why everybody immediately takes sides with the popular boys instead of thinking about how the girl, Stacey, must feel, assuming that she must have made it up, forgetting that she is human and might actually be telling the truth.

“All I’m saying is there are rules. You don’t get wasted. You don’t take off your top. You don’t flirt with raging drunks. You don’t dress like a slut. You have to play by the rules. If you don’t, this is what happens.”

“Words have MEANINGS. When you say you ‘can’t help yourself’ if a girl is wasted, that means something, too. You’re saying that our natural state as men is ‘rapist.’ That’s not okay with me.”

   Kate was an incredibly interesting character. She was strong, smart, and despite the fact that everyone told her to not get involved or think about what happened, she still felt the need of at least checking on Stacey, which ultimately, among other reasons, led her to wanting to figure it all out. I enjoyed her friendship with her team mates and her feelings toward Ben, her childhood friend on whom she had a crush for years.
   Speaking of which, Ben was an interesting character as well. He was the one who drove Kate away from the party, at which the assault happened, when he was that she was already totally drunk, but returned to it after bringing Kate home. He didn't want to get involved and had his own problems to deal with, meaning his mom who is addicted to buying things with coupons. I really liked that aspect of the story, especially because it was something I've not seen done before.
   I liked the dynamic that these two had when interacting with each other, and was fascinated my Kate's courage to go against the masses and get involved, against all odds. It was fascinating to see how most girls tried to explain to themselves that something like what happened to Stacey could never happen to them because they are not "that girl". It was brilliant to see Kate come to the conclusion that if she wouldn't have had Ben, she could have been "that girl" just as well as Stacey since she'd been pretty drunk, too.

“What about me?” I choke. “Do you owe me something? I was just as wasted as she was. Why do I get driven home and kept safe but not her? Why not just leave me to Dooney and Deacon and the boys in the basement?”

   Another aspect of What We Saw that I found interesting was the portrayal and involvement of the media, which I hadn't really seen before in books dealing with sexual assault. We got a look at live news broadcasts, TV vans standing in front of the school trying to get any information they could, and also got to read a couple of news articles written by the main journalist involved in the case. That was really intriguing and helped shape the atmosphere of the entire book.
   Aaron Hartzler has a really good writing style that really makes you think that this character, Kate, is a teen at school. He captured her thoughts and how they changed over the course of the book magnificently. As mentioned previously, the book really felt very realistic and true to the nature and tendency to being judgmental that teens have, along with this sheep like behavior many of them have out of fear of sticking out should they have a different opinion.

   All in all, I truly enjoyed What We Saw and can't recommend it enough. It's honest, realistic, and brilliant in so many ways along with being one of those truly important books one should simply read. The characters are great and the writing style really good. If you are interested in hard topic books then this one is definitely for you.
I give What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler 5 out of 5 stars.

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