Review: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

Release Date: January 1st 2016 / September 22nd 2015 (US)
Published By: HarperCollins / HarperTeen (US)
Pages: 336
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Purchase: Click here to purchase

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Synopsis: 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 that 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.


Review: What We Saw is a story of a small town rocked by rape allegations. And while this story is not from the POV of the victim, or alleged offenders, it does not shy away from the horrors of such a situation. It shows the true horror - the bystanders. This is the backstory. The story of those who know the victim and the accused offender(s). Of those who may or may not know exactly what happened. Those who are either willing to let their personal opinion of the people involved be the judge, or those who are wanting to find true justice.

This book is thought provoking. And it definitely shows the worst sides of human nature. From those who feel it is their right to force themselves onto someone, to those who rape-shame. This story shines a light on the town dealing with accusations from a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, who claims she was assaulted by the star students of the town. It is the story of how the town judges those involved, how they manage the accusation itself, how they treat the individuals involved, and how the view and manage the media attention it brings.

It also raises issues such as glorifying the wrong qualities in people, entitlement, being judgemental of a person’s credibility and good and bad side of social media. But more shockingly, it highlights how people are not willing to stand up and do what is right.

I will admit that I have mixed feelings about this book. What I love about it, is that it really shows the harmful effects of only seeing what you want to see and not being willing to stand up against the social norm. And while I respect this very powerful message, and I was utterly appalled by the actions of some of the characters in this story, I felt that due to the fact that this story was from Kate’s POV, I felt a little removed from the key message at times.

Obviously this book was written purposefully from Kate’s POV, for the reason that she was removed from situation, and in a way, that makes the message so much more powerful - but there were many times that I became frustrated with hearing about Kate’s everyday life, when there was something so much bigger going on. Trust me, I know that was part of the point - to show readers that when removed from the situation, people move on with their life, they go about their everyday business without thinking too much about the agony that other people face… but I knew something else was going on, so I wanted Kate to shut the hell up, stop swooning over Ben, and just find out what had happened. I felt more desire at most points to get to the bottom of this situation than Kate did. I really didn’t care about what she had for breakfast, because I knew that there were more important things in life then her day to day existence. Anyway, I know that is one of the points to this story, but I still found it frustrating (which means I am a good person, right?).

Amongst all the horrifyingly realism of the story of a town who is quick to support their “star” kids and villainise a victim of sexual assault (or worse, justify it), What We Saw is also a story about a person who starts to see that things may not be exactly how she is told they are. This is a story about one person, who realises that all the pieces don’t fit nicely together like she is being told they do, and is determined to uncover the truth. One person, who is willing to go up against her family, her friends, her love-interest, her town, and herself, if that is what is required to do the right thing.

This book is not unicorns and rainbows, flowers and sunshine - it is hard, it is truth, and it is told in such a way that I can only credit the author for their brutal honesty of so many issues all wrapped up in this story. The honesty within the story is devastatingly refreshing - it will make you think, it will make your feel, it disgust and intrigue you, but more importantly… it will make you angry.

This book mad me SO angry. Angry that some people are evil, some are selfish, some are cowards. It made me angry that some people don’t want to know the truth because it is inconvenient for them. It made my blood boil that some people don’t want to do the right thing because it could have a few negative repercussions for them, and that some people would down right lie to protect those who are evil, rather than those who are innocent. It made me sad that people make assumptions on others due to their social standing, it made me sadder that others make excuses for wrong-doing based on those same social standings. It shows the worst of humanity, the judgemental, the ignorance, the entitlement, the cowardness. This is a story that needs to be told. This is real. This, sadly, is the world we live in.



What do you think?

  • I haven’t really heard much about this book but it sounds interesting. I’m not sure if I’ll read it though. I think it will make me angry too and I just don’t want to feel that over a book right now, right now I’m wanting to read more uplifting books. Though I do think books like this need to be written and need to be read.
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