Review: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler


What We Saw

Aaron Hartzler
Harper Teen; 2015
Hardcover; 336 pages


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.

From Goodreads.


If you witnessed something that you knew was wrong or illegal, would you report it? Would you say something, even if that means accusing several star players from your local high school basketball (or any sport) team? Especially if they were on their way to win the state championship? What We Saw sheds light on what teenagers and even adults would do to keep the reputation of the “popular kids” in tact, even if there are witnesses who can report the truth.

What We Saw begins with high school junior Kate Weston waking up (hungover) the morning after John Doone’s party and wondering what happened after she left the party at 10 p.m. She checked her phone and saw pictures posted on Twitter and hashtag abbreviations she didn’t know, but didn’t really ask the big questions (of course not, she’s hungover and it  was still Chapter 1). All she knew was that there’s a picture of Stacey Stallard, a girl she used to play soccer with, who now has her own reputation because of the mature way she dresses (if you catch my drift), passed out and draped over Deacon Mills’ shoulder.

No one says anything when they hear Stacey isn’t at school the next day or the week… but when news stations report a student is pressing charges for rape against three other high school seniors, everyone knows who the alleged victim is. For me, it was really startling to see how many students seemed indifferent about Stacey’s absence but ferociously angry she had named the school’s top starting basketball players who were destined to top tier schools on scholarship as her rapists.

This book–appropriated geared for young adults–explores the idea of telling the truth and coming forward with information (you can do it anonymously, you know), even if that means become a social outcast from the school and community you grew up in. What’s more important: truth and justice or popularity? Does the outward appearance and perception of a victim make the crime less criminal or all right because she dresses like that and what does she expect? Do you really want to associate with a community that guard’s its athletes over an underaged victim?

I think the answers are pretty clear, but making the right choice is never easy. Kate Weston does her own investigative work, understanding that there are two sides of the story and that there are people who know what happened and aren’t talking. Also, I’d like to extend my admiration to Aaron Hartzler for writing in the voice of a female protagonist without it coming off superficial or forced. He did an amazing job of keeping true to Kate’s character.

Side note/personal rant: Yes, this book includes rape and sex, and there are some profanities used. However, I think reading about rape, sex, integrity and making smart decisions is a good way to introduce and expose these topics to your preteen/teen than having them experience it and not feel comfortable talking to you about it. Think about it this way: reading is a controlled environment and reading will arm your child with the knowledge they need to process these unfortunate and important situations. And as much as you want to believe your child is innocent and isn’t aware of the darkness in the world we live in, they do. That’s my rant.

4.5 out of 5 Stars
Copy from local library

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