Title: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Fiction
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: A+ & A Recommended Read
Review Copy Purchased by Review Site
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.”
If you are only going to read one young adult book in your life, then that novel should be What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler. This is a book that matters. This is a novel that is real life at its darkest but also at its most hopeful when one person is willing to speak up when others are not. What We Saw is a story that has the power to change how people think and it needs to be on every person’s and every school’s reading list.
What We Saw is written in first person from Kate Weston’s point of view. A junior with a promising future ahead of her, she, along with several of her classmates attend a party at one of their classmates’ home while his parents are out of town. After downing a few too many shots of tequila, her longtime friend Ben Cody makes sure she gets home safely and then he returns to the party to retrieve his car. The next day, social media (esp. Twitter) blows up with tweets, comments and pictures from the night before. One of the pictures going around is one taken of Stacey Stallard and she is drunk, passed out and slung over the shoulder of one of the school’s popular basketball players. By Monday morning, whispers about Stacey begin and before the week is over, four popular basketball players will be charged with sexual assault. What really happened that night might have remained a mystery, a case of “he said, she said”, if not for Kate Weston. Kate does not like how everyone is trashing Stacey’s reputation and she does not like the fact that no one seems interested in knowing what really happened to Stacey. Kate wants to know the truth and she is willing to go against her parents and her friends to uncover it.
Sadly, What We Saw is a fictionalized account of an actual case that happened in 2012. Aaron Hartzler’s portrayal of this case is remarkably true to life and it is sometimes incredibly hard to read, let alone fathom. The storyline challenges society’s kneejerk reaction to place the blame on the victim and it also challenges many biased beliefs that a woman is “asking” to be raped because of flirtatious behavior, the way she dresses or drinking a little too much. Various discussions offer a thoughtful commentary on what constitutes consent and more importantly, these conversations make it clear that the inability to say no is not an implied yes. A well written, thought-provoking young adult novel that I highly recommend to readers of all ages.