What We Saw – Aaron Hartzler, Review

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What We Saw has a concept that I was excited about initially, but it wasn’t what I expected. Now I want to say first up that turned out not to be a really bad thing; I loved this book.


Without spoiling too much the story is about the sexual assault of a highschool girl at a party; she’s assaulted in the basement by three male basketball players. Sound familiar? Well, most likely yes because it’s based upon real events, that said, however, it’s done quite sensitively. This sensitivity may be the reason that the victim of the assault appears in the book only three or four times, and only once in person.

Although this is a story about Stacey and what happened to her, it is actually more focused on how this event changes the society around it. At first I was annoyed that Stacey didn’t get more attention, but the truth is the male perpetrators don’t get much more. They appear in the flesh, so to speak, three or four times, but are mostly mentioned in pictures, in conversation, and in a single video.

Once you get on board with the idea that this is a look at the willingness of people to blame the helpless, the paralysing fear that grips girls and women surrounding this subject, and how the reaction is split between the steadfast need to be different to the victim, and the utter understanding that such differences don’t always matter this book is a bit of a gut churner. Not in a bad way though; you root for Kate, the protagonist, and Hartzler makes it easy to understand how even she, who felt something was wrong from the beginning, can struggle to find the right reaction to it all. This is a book which shows all the shades of grey present in such communities when atrocities are committed, and in a way it explains why the reactions are so often unpleasant to an on-looker.

It’s well written, it’s horribly believable, and beautifully poignant; in particular Hartzler has a knack for writing teenage girls that seem real. They have their convictions, their complexities, and their own ugly prejudices in some cases. These aren’t giggling, nail obsessed bimbos, and even when they were they show other hidden sides, and deeper understandings of the world they live in very realistically. This should be a key text for anyone who wants to write about teenagers.

There’s a twist in the tail, too, that makes you really feel for Kate, but I won’t tell you what that is. All in all I’d be remiss if I didn’t give it 5/5.


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