Thursday, October 22, 2015

Review: What We Saw

What We Saw
By Aaron Hartzler
Published: September 22, 2015

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."

My review:

Kate Weston is leading a happy life full of possibilities. She has a great group of friends, she loves being on her high school's soccer team and Ben Cody, her childhood friend turned teenage crush seems to have noticed her too. They even share a moment on the night of basketball star John Doone's party before he takes her home since she had a little too much to drink. She wakes up the next day and sees a picture of herself doing shots with Stacey Stallard and feels embarrassed that she got so out of hand. She later sees another picture of Stacey passed out with the guys but doesn't think much of it. She is preoccupied with Ben and the very real possibility of a relationship with him. 

When Stacey doesn't show up at school and people are talking trash about her, Kate starts to suspect that something else happened. She is grateful that she wasn't at the party and that Ben left too...but she can't help but wonder if he is hiding what he knows about his friends. The arrest of four members of the basketball team shakes the town with most people taking the boys' side. Kate becomes obsessed with finding out the truth even if it costs her everything she loves.

What We Saw is a shocking and realistic novel inspired by true events. Stacey may be central to the plot but it is really Kate, her classmates and the school administration that are at the center of the novel. Initially Kate goes along with her friends' and parents' wishes to not rock the boat and keep out of things but she can't help but remember that Stacey Stallard was once her friend or the fact that she too was drunk at that party but someone took her home. While Kate feels sorry for Stacey (it seems like she is the only member of her community who does), it takes her awhile to get to the point that she is willing to go against the flow and pursue justice for Stacey.

On her quest for the truth, she does make some questionable choices. I think she became a little too obsessed with Stacey and the events of the party. Instead of respecting her as a person who is hurting and might want privacy, Kate behaves more like a tactless reporter going after a story or a gawker at an accident scene. She does realize her mistakes and I think she had her heart in the right place however. Kate transforms gradually from the carefree and happy teen at the beginning of the novel to one is more sensitive to the treatment of women and girls by those around her. She even chastises her younger brother for being a basketball groupie and mimicking things he doesn't understand like retweeting #R and P (rape and pillage--they are the "Buccaneers") or rating his female classmates' looks on Facebook. 

I believe this is an important and timely story to tell and the author succeeds in portraying a town and school where sports and community spirit are so important that they trump justice. The book discusses rape culture, the objectification of women and double standards. What We Saw would be a good companion novel to All the Rage by Courtney Summers.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss


  1. Wow! This is a new-to-me book and it seems really, really powerful and like you said, very timely. It does sound like an important read. I want to read All the Rage as well. Thanks for putting this book on my radar, Christina!

  2. Excellent book! I do remember the details of that awful trial this is based on. Should be required reading for high school English class due to the sensitivity of the subject-- that way the teacher can lead a discussion on the topics covered and take away the giggly, embarrassment factor.

  3. I'm glad you felt this was a worthwhile read. I do hope to check it out soon. It's such an important topic. I also really like that a guy wrote it - you tend to see more female authors touching on topics like these.


  4. Not heard of this one but it's a topical issue and an emotional one. Thanks for highlighting it, I'm adding it to my list. All the Rage is already on my kindle.

  5. This might be my favorite review that I've read of this book!! You really describe it well. I also didn't like some of Kate's obsessive behavior when she didn't really have Stacey's blessing to get involved. I really liked the book though... I just wish it was a tad less lesson-ey. Seriously great review!!


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