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Sunday, October 14, 2018

Review Sunday: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler


"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."

This is so heartbreaking and is so, so relevant today, especially with what's happening in the US with the Supreme Court at the moment.  I was moved to tears.
Trigger warning: rape

1.  The characters.  I really enjoyed how the author chose to portray the characters.  It's so easy, when dealing with such polarizing topics to paint people as caricatures but the author took such pains to make sure that every character was one that I could see in real life (and sadly, that I have seen).  The different reactions to what happened at the party and how people choose to defend the then alleged rapist without even considering what the victim had to say were so accurately portrayed.  I also loved how we get to see the main character, Kate, struggle through the confusion and try to do what's right.  I thought her actions were so true to her age and upbringing; I could really feel her presence through the page.

“Why does everybody say ‘feminist’ that way?” “What way?” “The way Dooney kept saying ‘herpes’ after health class last year. Like it’s this terrible, unspeakable thing.”

2.  The plot.  The book has generally one main plotline (finding out what exactly happened at the party) with two subplots (Kate's relationship with Ben and Ben's scholarship quest in relation to his mother's borderline hoarding problem).  Sometimes subplots can stray away from the main plotline but the two subplots here were perfectly interwoven and each impacted the others.  I especially loved the interactions of Ben and Kate's relationship with the main plotline as Kate tries to figure out exactly what happened after she left the party and what that has to do with her childhood friend.  The characters are all trying so hard to not get wrapped up in the 'scandal' that they end up covering up the crime itself (in the case of rape, there really are no bystanders).  It's all well paced and well thought through.

“Boys will be boys’ is what people say to excuse guys when they do something awful.”

3.  The romance.  Interplaying a romance with a sexual assault message is a brilliant move on the author's part.  It's tricky to do but I think he really pulled it off because of the characters he involves.  There's this perfect juxtaposition set up where the main character, Kate, loses her virginity while the rape investigation is ongoing.  The concept of consent is explored beautifully and as Kate loses her virginity, she is so mindful about what it means to say yes and what it means if she had said nothing at all.  To that end, the romance was sweet and perfectly handled at the end.

“Words have meanings. When we call something a theory in science, it means something. Reggie, when you say that you 'can't help yourself' if a girl is wasted, that means something,too. You're saying that our natural state as men is 'rapist'.”

4.  The topic.  I don't want to close out this review without taking a moment to acknowledge how well the author approached this topic.  Sexual assault is a tricky cliff to walk on and it can be so difficult to portray a scenario that could really happen without cheapening the message or missing some of the message altogether.  This book really emphasizes the discussion on what constitutes consent (aka most simply verbal confirmation) and the dark, twisting nature of the collective societal atmosphere that allows rape culture to exist.

“Remember,” Mr. Johnston says, “nothing is exactly as it appears. The closer you look, the more you see.”

The Final Verdict:
A candid novel that explores the rape culture that permeates a societal structure and how that culture has real impacts on the people who live within it.  Really well done.
4.5 stars


  1. I was thinking the same thing: Why try for a romance in a book about rape? I’m glad to hear it works beautifully.

    1. Yeah I was definitely a little apprehensive about that when it first started to appear but the effect is really nice once you get into it! Thanks for stopping by, Jenny!

  2. I actually haven't read a negative review of this book before and I am glad you were able to appreciate the revelance of this book so much as well. You can tell the author has crafted this one carefully, especially with that fine tuned juxtaposition with the rape and one other character losing her virginity. Actually going to head over to Goodreads and add this one to my TBR now! You've convinced me that this one should be on there. Great review <3

    1. I totally agree! It's so easy to whip up a book full of blatant opinions but the author took care to set up situational occurrences that resonate really well. That juxtaposition is one of my favorite devices the author uses and I hope you love it just as much! Thanks for stopping by, Olivia!

  3. This is a wonderful review, I'm so happy to hear you enjoyed this book so much! It sounds like an intense read and, to be honest, I'm not sure I'll give it a try because of these harsh topics, but I'm happy that these books exist out there and carry these important messages, too. Great review! <3

    1. Thank you, Marie! Yeah, it definitely was; it was one of those books that I got absorbed with for three hours and then had a massive book hangover for the next day or so. There's just so much to think about. Thanks for stopping by!


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