Book Review: What We Saw


ashley | I gravitate towards books with heavy content and What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler is probably toward the top of the list where heavy content is involved. Knowing ahead of time that this was based on the Steubenville High School rape case, I was nervous about picking it up. I remember that case. Or more accurately, I can’t forget it. It disgusted and terrified me. I expected this book to invoke similar reactions and I wasn’t wrong.

It starts off pretty lighthearted though, which threw me for a loop and I found that for the majority of the first half, I was just waiting for the darkness to fall. But I really enjoyed getting to know Kate and her budding innocent relationship with her childhood friend (that she’s recently discovered she has more-than-friends feelings for). Ben seems so sweet and how his affections make Kate blush and get those butterflies, it’s just the perfect description of young love and it made me swoon. Kate’s life isn’t perfect, but she seems like a well balanced, happy teen girl. I latched on to her quickly, which is what made everything else so much more heartbreaking.

I am SO thankful I am now past my prime (at the ripe ol’ age of 30!) and didn’t have to go through my formative years with Facebook and Instagram staring me in the face. I can’t imagine what it must be like for kids these days, the way that people use these “fun” tools against each other, it’s terrifying. Hartzler masterfully exemplifies these horrors in this book and I really loved how he put it all together.

This isn’t from the point of view of Stacey, the girl in question, or even from the point of view of the accused. We learn about what happened that fateful night through, as the title suggests, what all the bystanders witnessed and what showed up on social media sites. 

There are a lot of really important conversations in here. By telling this from the point of view of witnesses and gossip through school, we’re able to see all the varying sides of the story. The snap judgements, the stereotypes put on the situation, the shaming and then have them all second guessed when someone plays devil’s advocate. With a variety of characters, you get a variety of sides and the enormous weight and seriousness of the situation can finally set in. And the complicated, sometimes disgusting way we deal with such situations can very clearly be revealed.

There’s a very powerful narrative that analyzes sexism, slut-shaming and consent. There’s also a big focus on how the media can portray only part of the story. A camera only shows so much and a reporter has the power to change the tone of the image with a few simple words. But most of all, the heavy message here is that not coming forward with what you saw makes you just as guilty.

I had a ton of feels after reading this. Most of which was anger. And disgust. And even a few tears. This book made me feel sick to my stomach. Sick not only because it seemed so real, like it could happen at any house party to any girl, but also because this did happen. And that it very easily could happen again. This is one of those books I wish would be added to the school curriculum, something that I think everyone should have to read because for whatever reason, these messages just aren’t sinking in and people don’t take rape as seriously as they should and things like this keep happening and it needs to stop.

more information
amazon goodreads  Harper Collins

September 22, 2015

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