Review: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

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Book Title: What We Saw
Author: Aaron Hartzler
Published Date: September 29th, 2015
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: YA Contemporary
Standalone
Book Link: Goodreads
Purchase Links: AmazonBarnes & NobleThe Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads
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.

Disclaimer: I received this e-ARC from HarperTeen via Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review.

Review
I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. I was pretty sure I’d love it, but I was horribly unprepared for the rush of emotions that overtook me as I read it. I wasn’t prepared to have to frequently walk away from the book to keep from exploding in anger. I wasn’t expecting to get angrier and angrier as the book continued.

But I did.

Listen, it is never okay to take advantage of someone who has been drinking or is otherwise incapable of giving consent. I don’t care what someone is wearing. It’s not okay no matter what.

Got it? Good.

I definitely got an All The Rage feel from this book, but this book made me angrier in ten minutes than All The Rage made me in one day. I was utterly horrified, heartsick and livid all at once and by the time I finished the book, I was in tears. Sad tears & angry tears and my stomach was in knots.

By now you all should be aware of my disdain of high school athletes getting away with pretty much anything. It’s disgusting and infuriating. It’s even worse in a small town. Here, high school athletes are regarded as “kings” and “queens” and anyone who tries to change that, is automatically labelled a “troublemaker”

In this book we have everyone from the small store owner, Bonnie to the coaches of the sports teams villifying Stacey. How dare she press charges on these “good boys from good Christian families”

Vomit.

I cannot say enough amazing things about our protagonist, Kate. She didn’t just sit back and watch things go to crap. She questioned things, people and even her own thoughts about that night. She knew Stacey was telling the truth.

Her friends on the other hand, particularly Christy, were crappy people. If I had to hear one more statement of victim blaming from Christy, I was going to put my damn hand through a wall.

“Did you see the skirt Stacey was wearing at the party? I have washcloths made of more fabric.”

At least Lindsey wasn’t such a terrible person.

“Just because she was wearing skimpy clothes means that she’s lying about forcing themselves on her?”

But Christy insisted on blaming Stacey, the goddamn victim, for what happened to her.

“If you don’t want to work a guy into a lather, keep your cooch covered up.”

Thus blaming Stacey for what happened to her and not holding the boys responsible at all. That’s disgusting, and it further proves some people’s point that boys cannot be held responsible for their actions and that girls need to cover up if they don’t want to be assaulted.

I’m speechless, and not in a good way.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Ben. I knew something was off about him early on, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I wasn’t sure if he had any part in what the basketball players did to Stacey or if he was even there. I definitely did not trust him, and I was definitely worried about Kate.

The amount of sway the boys’ families had over the investigation was staggering, although not totally unheard of in a small town such as this one.

“Dooney’s dad’ll make it go away.”

Just the fact that this was said at all, made me sick to my stomach. Allegations such as this shouldn’t be swept under the rug regardless of what’s at stake and the simple fact that Ben said this so matter-of-factly, made me furious. I’m no stranger to powerful people sweeping things under the rug unfortunately.

I think I hated the coach & the head honchos of the school the most. Their number one concern should have been getting to the bottom of what happened, and making sure Stacey was safe. But, instead, they continued to coddle the basketball players, ignore Stacey completely and insist that these allegations were baseless.

“I want to ask you all to send good thoughts to the players who aren’t with us this afternoon.”

Um, seriously? Where are those good thoughts for Stacey, you know the victim in this awful thing? Apparently she wasn’t worth good thoughts because she was the one potentially screwing up their lives.

If this book wasn’t raising my blood pressure enough, this conversation between Ben & Kate certainly did.

“Why would Deacon and Dooney rape anybody? They can both have any girl they want. You saw Stacey hanging all over them at the party.”

“That doesn’t mean she wanted them to fuck her.”

“We don’t know that. We weren’t there.”

“Exactly, for all we know it’s just as likely that Dooney and Deacon are the ones lying. Don’t we owe it to Stacey to believe she might be telling the truth?”

“I don’t owe her anything.”

From that moment on, I had a knot in my stomach that did not let up for the rest of the book. I was livid. How could Ben say that he didn’t owe her anything. What if it had been someone he loved, what if it had been Kate who was assaulted?

I was pretty ambivalent about Rachel the entire book. I didn’t hate her, but I didn’t really like her either. My ambivalence went out the window at about three quarters of the way into the book.

“All I’m saying is that there are rules.  You don’t get wasted. You don’t take off your top. You don’t flirt with raging drunks. You don’t dress like a slut. You have to play by the rules, if you don’t, this is what happens.”

Well well, victim blaming again.

I have to give Mr. Johnston mad props here. Instead of sweeping this under the rug, he used class time to force the guys to come up with alternative options for rape. Of course there should have never have been a need for this, but I’m glad it was addressed, and by a male teacher nonetheless.

I also have to give serious props to Kate’s younger brother, Will. There was a video of that night and Kate forces him to view it. After seeing him idolize the guys responsible, Will realizes that some things are not okay.

“Not being able to say no isn’t the same as saying yes. She didn’t deserve this.”

“Nobody does. Nobody deserve this.”

Watching Will realize this was both heartwarming and heartbreaking. He idolized the boys that did this, and the boys that knew about it.

This book made me feel all the things. I think it needs to be in high schools and I will be purchasing this book for my own collection as well as for my brother. He doesn’t read at all, but he reminded me so much of Will, and I think it’s important that he read this book. I will be giving it 5 stars and I will be recommending it to everyone.

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

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