Title: What We Saw
Author: Aaron Hartzler
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Source: ARC from Publisher
Kate Weston can piece together most of the bash at John Doone’s house: shots with Stacey Stallard, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early—the feeling that maybe he’s becoming more than just the guy she’s known since they were kids.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 hat can’t be ignored begin to surface, and every answer Kate finds leads back to the same question: Where was Ben when a terrible crime was committed?This story—inspired by real events—from debut novelist Aaron Hartzler takes an unflinching look at silence as a form of complicity. It’s a book about the high stakes of speaking up, and the razor thin line between guilt and innocence that so often gets blurred, one hundred and forty characters at a time.
Some books are hard to read for the best kinds of reason: they deal with difficult subject matter, they tackle issues that make readers, and often society as a whole, uncomfortable but still need to be talked about. One of those books is Aaron Hartzler’s What We Saw.
Kate has trouble remembering exactly what happened at John Doone’s party that Saturday night. She remembers doing shots with Stacey and she remembers Ben making sure she got home safe that night. The rest is all a little fuzzy. But when she sees pictures of Stacey passed out at the party, Kate starts trying to figure out what went down after she left. When Stacey levels sexual assault charges against four of her classmates, Kate knows something definitely happened the night of the party. But despite the mounting evidence against the four boys, everyone seems to think what happened was all Stacey’s fault. Kate doesn’t know how to make sense of it all. And through it all she can’t help but wonder where Ben, the boy who’s been her friend since they were five and who’s finally becoming more, was when all this happened.
I’m surprised I haven’t seen more people talking about Aaron Hartzler’s What We Saw. Because this book more than deserves to be talked about and I can only hope I can do it justice in this review. Here’s the thing about this book: it deals with rape and it won’t be for everyone. But this story was important even if it wasn’t always an easy one to read. In fact, there were moments while reading that I felt physically sick. But that’s because the story was so well written and everything about it felt incredibly real. And the way What We Saw was told made it all the more powerful. This is the story of a girl accusing four basketball players of raping her in a small town where the high school basketball players are kings. And as a result, the majority of the town is in an uproar about this girl harming these poor, talented boys’ futures. Just writing that sentence makes me want to scream, but sadly, that’s the reality we live in. It’s wrong on so many levels that in many cases of sexual assaults people are willing to defend the aggressors and blame the victims. It’s something you see everywhere, and, sadly, it’s something you see even more of when there are athletes involved. What We Saw brings attention to this and for that reason, it’s an important story. And all that is something that bothered Kate, the main character, as well and as a result it makes getting answers about what happened really difficult. That’s what really made this story so powerful for me: the fact that sometimes all it takes it one person fighting for the truth to get other people to see it.
From the start, Kate was an easy character to like. And the more of her story, the more I liked her. But as much as I, as a reader, liked her, she didn’t really have an easy go of it in her small town as the story moved forward. Having this story told from Kate’s point of view offered some interesting insights. For the most part, Kate was just as drunk as Stacey, the girl who got raped, the night of the party. But because she had a certain reputation and people viewed her in a certain way, she had someone who made sure she was safe. And I think that’s what makes this story the much more powerful. Kate wants answers not just because she’s a decent person, but because she feels like what happened to Stacey could have easily happened to her. Because that night, the only difference between them was that Kate had someone looking out for her while Stacey was dressed “provocatively.” And that brings me to Ben. Every step of the way, much like Kate, I hoped that Ben had nothing to do with what happened to Stacey. Every time Kate asked him about it, I felt relieved when he was able to explain things away. Much like Kate, I wanted to believe him. But something always felt a little off no matter I wanted him to be clear of everything. I just wanted to live in denial of him being possibly involved in any way. Because he came across as a genuinely good guys. But appearances can always be deceiving.
What We Saw was an absolutely fantastic job. It was a powerful story and one that will make you think long after you’re finished reading. Aaron Hartzler did a fantastic job writing a gripping story that will make you uncomfortable while also making you want to tell everyone about it.