What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler
Dates Read: March 18 – March 19, 2016
Print Length: 336 pages
Publication Date: September 22, 2015
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
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Trigger Warning for rape. *This review previously appeared on my first blog.*
“Why would [they] rape anybody? They can both have any girl they want.”
Every once in a while, you read a book that really changes the game. For me, What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler is that book. I just need to tell everyone about it.
After a wild night at John Doone’s party, Kate can only barely remember what happened. Shots with Stacey Stallard, her childhood friend Ben Cody driving her home. But when a picture of Stacey passed out, hanging over Deacon Mills’s shoulder appears online, Kate begins to question everything that happened that night. Especially when Stacey files charges against the boys, and the whole town erupts into controversy.
“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.”
What We Saw is based on the Steubenville Rape Case, a case I followed almost to the letter when it happened. I couldn’t believe what I was reading in so many instances. The way the media talked all about how sad it was that these boys with promising futures wouldn’t have a chance anymore. How sad it was that these local heroes’ lives were ruined. It was the first time I’d really seen a case of victim blaming and slut shaming.
“Whatever it is that [she] says happened is her own damn fault. That girl is a hot mess.”
The media talked about how the victim was known for partying for her promiscuity. Like the people in this book, they were blaming her for her own rape. I couldn’t believe it’s the twenty-first century, and people still think what a girl wore to a party is relevant in the case of sexual assault.
What We Saw tackles a difficult topic in a heartbreakingly real way. The conversations in Hartzler’s novel weren’t real, but they very well could have been. It eloquently commentates on the dangers of victim blaming, slut shaming, and rape culture. It attacks the valuable lesson that only yes means yes. It reminds us that rape is not about sex.
“Not being able to say no isn’t the same as saying yes.”
It would be easy to write a book where the protagonist sides with the victim and easily rallies support of her town. It would be easy to say they stood up to the rapists, and the victim got her justice. But the fact of that matter is is that it doesn’t always happen that way. What We Saw is brutally honest, and you have to struggle as Kate comes to terms with everything. You have to hope and pray that she has the guts to stand up, then hope and pray people have the guts to stand up in real life.
What We Saw is gripping and real. More people need to read this honest commentary on rape culture. More people need to know that if a person is assaulted, it is never the victim’s fault. This book may make you sick while reading it, it certainly did to me, but it is so, so important.
“Because the truth is that if it could happen to [her], it could happen to any of us.”
tl;dr — A grippingly real commentary on rape culture that is sure to get you thinking.