“What does it mean to say yes? To consent to a kiss? To a touch? To more than that?”
Title: What We Saw
Author: Aaron Hartzler
Publication: September 22nd 2015 by Harper Teen
Source: Publisher at ALA Annual
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.
Wow…just wow. I finished What We Saw mere moments before sitting down to write this review and I don’t even know what to think right now. I’m overwhelmed, my brain is fried and my heart is both hurting and singing the praises of this wonderful novel. I don’t know what to say, I can’t find the words within myself to express how important books like this are. What We Saw is powerful, it challenges us to think of what our silence can do to other people, of what the difference between right and wrong truly is. Is being a bystander while a girl is raped considered helping the rapist? What about having the video of the rape and trying to cover it all up? This book was brutal, it was gut wrenching, and it has me at a loss for words.
Kate Weston can’t remember anything from the night of the party other than Ben driving her home and Stacey Stallard’s arm over her shoulder while the two of them took shots. The following week at school, four boys are arrested for the rape of Stacey Stallard and the distribution of child pornography (AKA: The video and photos they took while raping her). The problem is, no one believes Stacey. She was wearing a short skirt, she got drunk, so clearly it is her fault, right? Wrong, but no one says that. It’s her fault, she is dragging these boy’s good names through the dirt for no good reason – and that is what pissed me off the most. The entire town is the epitome of rape culture. The boys are angels, even with all the evidence (which, by the way, the coaches and teachers at the school are covering up – obviously). If you speak up for Stacey, try to figure out what actually happened that night, or even question one of the boys – you become an instant pariah and social outcast. It was appalling.
Writing this review is so hard – God, I don’t even know what to say. I loved this book, I have read multiple books about rape: All The Rage and Some Boys to name a few. All three books focus on a girl who is raped by the town’s golden boy, or in this case, boys. All three books focus on the aftermath, the hunt for the truth, and the brutal way these girls are treated. But, What We Saw is different than the other two novels – this book is not from the point of view of the victim, rather, this book is told from Kate Weston’s point of view, just another girl who was at the party. It provided a really unique voice to the story – an outside perspective on the events rather than someone who was directly affected by it. All Kate wants is to learn the truth, to know what really happened to Stacey the night of the party. I really liked Kate as a character. I liked that she questioned things when everyone else jumped to the basketball players side and that she wanted to find out the truth, not for gossip, but because the truth needed to be told. She showed a lot of growth as she struggled with herself over what right, who to trust, and who to protect. She tried her hardest to do what was right, to ignore what would happen if she told the truth after she found it – and I admire that strength. She isn’t perfect, she isn’t the character you think she is going to be. She doesn’t run to the victim’s defense right off the bat, she doesn’t instantly stop hanging out with the accused, she goes along with the teasing and even agrees that Stacey had to have done something to deserve it. But, Kate is real. She asks questions, she feels, she is curious, she cares – she even attempts to blend into the rest of the school, even though she knows that it isn’t right. She is such a real person, she doesn’t stand out from the crowd – she does exactly what most people today would do. What makes her incredible is that she allows herself to have an opinion when the rest of the world around her has already decided on what opinion to have.
In my last review, Lock & Mori, I wrote a paragraph about how the two girls were sexually harassed in the park and then called bitches because they couldn’t accept a compliment. This book also takes an in depth look as to how women and the victims of rape are treated after trying to come forward. There is a scene early on, after Stacey initially makes her allegations, where Kate searches the hashtag #R&P and finds a hoard of cruel words and threats thrown at the rape victim.
“@BuccsRock: Gonna rape her good for Sure now. #r&p #buccsincuffs
@Pheebus17: White trash ho was so drunk she couldn’t tell a dick from a doughnut. #buccsincuffs
@fr0nt¢er: If we lose state cause of this whore she’s gonna get more than raped. #r&P #buccsincuffs”
How messed up is that? But, it is the truth of what happens in today’s society. It is the girls fault for getting drunk, for flirting with her rapist before he rapes her, for wearing something sexy, for not being coherent enough to verbally say no, for being unconscious. Stacey is completely unconscious when they rape her, and yet, no one cares or does a thing to stop it.
Overall, What We Saw is a powerful book that will make you stop and think about everything you see on social media. What you see isn’t always the truth, we all must unleash the bravery to come forward and question what we see, what we read, what we hear. This book does not sugar coat the ripple effects a single action, word, or tweet can have on a person. Hartzler’s book is one of the must read books of this year, if you don’t already have plans to buy it – make them.
I also want to take a moment here to direct you to Lady Gaga’s new music video “Til It Happens To You”. The video is meant to raise awareness of rape on college campuses and the proceeds are being given to organizations that help victims of sexual assault. This is a powerful video, I’ve watched it about five times already and each time I end up a bawling mess.