Review: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

Title: What We Saw

Author: Aaron Hartzler

Publication Date: 22 September 2015

Genre: YA contemporary


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. (Goodreads)


My rating: 3.5 out of 5

(tw: rape, sexual assault)

This one was.. loaded. And definitely not in a bad way. There was quite a bit to uncover.

So I feel like if you’re about 50 to 60 pages into a book, you’re supposed to know or at least have a feel for whether you are going to like it or not. With this one, I really didn’t know. The characters still felt really distant and nothing was really happening. Maybe this was due to Hartzler’s writing? I’m not sure. I found the beginning of the book needlessly long. I wasn’t connecting with the story at all. But in the end, I’m glad I stuck with it.

The more I read, the more I learned about the characters. Be it slowly. I started to sympathise. I felt for Kate, the mc, and the rest of her friends. It was kind of freaky how well Hartzler, a male author, portrayed their emotions, their fears. I will talk more about that when I get to his writing. Seeing these girls go through this.. experience was, honestly, a bit terrifying. It could happen anywhere. They all reacted differently to the assault allegations. The dynamic in their friend group changed. They changed.

“Look, this is not rocket science. It’s common sense. If you don’t want to work a guy into a lather, keep your cooch covered up.”

What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

To me, this book isn’t necessarily about the characters. It’s the story. How a simple party can turn into something so much bigger, how it can tear friends apart and unite strangers. I loved that Hartzler didn’t focus on the rape itself only, on whether it happened or not, but on everything surrounding it. How people reacted, the blaming, the victim shaming, the cover ups, the slut shaming, the media’s role and silence as a form of complicity. Really well done.

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

What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

“Boys will be boys.” A lot of meaning behind a four word sentence.

I have to say, what infuriated me the most, and it always does when it comes up, is the victim shaming. Blaming the victim for being raped, like it was their choice. What We Saw shows the importance of knowing that being unable to say no is not the same as a yes.

And as you would expect, the ending was bittersweet. I don’t want to say more about it.

Hartzler really did a brilliant job. Not only with the reoccurring theme of geology, which at first seems unfitting but is unexpectedly well done and actually quite fitting, but also with the emotions and different reactions. I honestly don’t know what to say but read for yourself. I was really impressed.

The closer you look, the more you see.

What We Say by Aaron Hartzler

As much as I wish I could’ve given this a higher rating, I can’t. It’s a really important book and I highly recommend it but I never felt like I couldn’t put it down or felt like the book consumed me.

Like I said, definitely recommend What We Saw. An important piece of work, especially in times like these.

Are you planning on reading it, too? Have you read it? And do you agree/disagree?

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3 thoughts on “Review: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

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