Wednesday, 8 June 2016

What We Saw - Aaron Hartzler; Review

Book Details:
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins (22nd Oct 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0062430629
ISBN-13: 978-0062430625


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?

Links To Buy:


Trigger Warning: Rape. Some spoilers up ahead. 

Moving forward with important books about important issues, todays review is on the book What We Saw - another book that revolves around issues of consent and rape; you can find my previous review on another similar book - Exit, Pursued By A Bear here

This was a hard book for me to read, mainly because the events that inspired this book are horrifically true. Based on the Steubenville High School rape case from 2012 - this book takes a look at the events that transpired but not from the victims point of view as you’d expect - but rather from the point of view of another girl who used to be friends with the victim. Who on the night of the event, was equally drunk, equally vulnerable - but how is it that she got to go home safely driven by her boyfriend, while another girl wasn’t so fortunate? 

There were a lot of issues covered in this book - the role of social media in a crime, reputation of rapists, slut shaming and consent. To me, all these issues were handled brilliantly and even more so - the book served a purpose. Many questions were raised by our main character as the book progresses whilst the silence of other characters also lent to the story. 
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” 
This certainly applies in this story and for one character in particular, which you’ll find out as you go along. 

The writing was very easy to read but also packed a punch. The characters were strongly written - I especially liked the voice of our main character and we can really see the events develop from her point of view. Her questions about what happened to Stacey that night, that begin off quite simple but the further we get into the story, more deep seeded questions are raised about consent and compliance. Her own ideas about these issues are a stark contrast to what the other girls around her believe about what happened - and these girls views represents perfectly the problem in society about slut shaming. About whether a girl is asking for it simply because she dresses a different way or is in the business of distributing drugs making her character slightly ‘sketchy’ as some refer to it. Just to clarify - the only one to blame for rape - IS. THE. RAPIST. Let’s leave it at that. 

The other issue on hand that was dealt with was in regards to seeing something that is wrong - but not speaking up against it. Kate for me, was a strong character - she came to her own conclusions but didn’t use her bias of being in the popular crowd and one to hang out with the boys accused, as colouring her judgement. Even going as far as stepping up and being the one to bring these events to light when she knew her boyfriend was involved. 

As for her boyfriend itself, Ben - was a prime example of the quote I used earlier - “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” He was a good guy, especially in comparison to his other friends who were the perpetrators of the assault. He drove his drunk girlfriend home and made sure she was safe. He sticks up for the underdogs at school. Parents love him, and he’s a basketball star. He is the genuine good guy - but that good is called into question when it’s found out *spoiler ahead* that he was there the night Stacy was assaulted. He was an on-looker yet he did nothing. His scholarship out of this town and to actually have a life, hung in the balance. He chose silence, and covering up the assault to keep that scholarship from being snatched from him. As readers, you can sit on the fence about this and say yeah he put himself first. He wasn’t the one involved in the actual assault. BUT. In the end, what does that say about someone when they can actually stand by and watch a helpless victim be raped and not only do nothing about it - but try to cover it up and make sure his involvement doesn’t come to light? The author has done a great job in blurring these lines for the readers to show you how thin that line itself is. Instead of taking an asshole of a character to get this point across, he uses a good guy.

The lack of coverage for the actual victim, Stacy, was something that I felt could have been improved. An additional few chapters throughout for her, to give light to the victim - she was otherwise non-existent in the book save for a few scenes where Kate seeks her out to ask what happened. From those very brief interactions, we don’t get enough coverage of the horrors that happened to her - not to say that we want a detailed account of what went on. But rather to flesh out the victim and not make her a background character. Because again, this book and how it is presented, it exactly how society today is and functions - so much media coverage of the rapist but almost none for the victim, usually labelled by age, female, and what state she was in - example - “17 year old, drunk female at a party, victim of sexual assault” and that’s about it. No we don’t need a full detailed account of her identity, but let’s not refer to her in just these sentences when in stark contrast, the rapist, usually (but not always) a male will be presented as the kid with a promising career in football or whatever sport and how this is account of “rape” could ruin his career. Don’t. Make. Me. Spit. On. You. 

I was also so angry when reading this book. So. So. Angry. The way these rapists were viewed, defended and even honoured for their role in basketball. And it’s even more horrific when you realise that this is exactly what happened in not just this but other real life cases. The media and everyone else looks not at the victim and what was snatched from them - but instead highlights how these ‘allegations’ have ruined an athletes future career. The way females themselves view a rape victim and questions just start to arise about what she was wearing, was she drunk, did she lead the guy on. I swear, when I hear these things, my blood boils. I am not naive and neither ignorant. I understand that wearing certain cloths over others, being in a certain state of mind over others, intentional or not - does sadly and horrifically lead others to think and perceive you in a certain way. BUT. MY. GOD. THAT. DOES. NOT. MEAN. IT’S. OKAY. FOR. YOU. TO. RAPE. SOMEONE. AGAINST. THEIR. WILL. 

I’m veering off track. My rage getting the better of me. But this highlights how much impact this book has had on me and by the looks of the reviews pinned to this page, on others too. We need more books like these ones to bring to light not only the wrong in our society, but also the need for people, young adults to shape their views on consent in an educational and effective way. A way to hammer these points home and show them the consequences of even just standing by and watching an assault happen, or the way a tiny Facebook comment or rating girls on their level of desirability, is deep rooted in a more haunting and destructive train of thought that displays how you think about women. 

Read it. Pass it on to your friends. Discuss it. Learn from it. 


  1. The line that stuck with me is from the policewoman near the end. You'll forgive me quoting from memory:

    "You're doing the right thing."
    "It doesn't feel like it."
    "Sometimes, that's how you know."

    1. Such a haunting quote, but very very true.