ARC Review: What We Saw

12:00 AM Serena 2 Comments

What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler
Expected Publication Date: September 22nd, 2015
Format/Source: eARC, thanks to Edelweiss and Harper Collins!
Rating: 5/5 stars 
Part of a series? No

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.

Trigger warning: Rape/sexual assault. Also, mild spoilers ahead. 

What We Saw was not an easy book to read. Not because it was boring or because the language was complex or anything of that nature, but because the subject matter is so raw and daunting. This is flat out a book about rape culture, and it is probably one of the most important books being published this year. 

The novel is based on the Steubenville High School rape case of 2012 and follows Kate as she tries to find out what really happened the night of a party. She doesn't know what's fact or fiction because she herself has little recollection of that night, and no one who knows the truth was willing to talk about it. I really felt for Kate. She struggles to find out the truth, even though her friends don't think she's on the "right side". And once she knew what actually happened, she was faced with telling the authorities or "betraying" her town. She eventually made the extremely difficult decision to make sure the truth was known, losing all her friends whilst doing the right thing. Four for you, Kate. You go, Kate. 

As for the other residents of Kate's town, y'all are the Gretchen Wieners of this novel. None for you. As I said before, What We Saw is about rape culture, and it really captures all the disgusting, saddening truths about it. From the horrendous victim blaming to affirming the notion that "boys will be boys" to protecting and defending rapists, these characters did it all. And it was so disheartening and awful to read about what the people of the this town did to Stacey, but it hurt the most to remember that this is something that undeniably happens much, much more frequently than it should. 

Rape culture exists in real life; it does not disappear when you close a book because it is even more evident in the real world right now. And that's exactly why books like this are so important. Books are gateways to knowledge, and my goodness, this is unequivocally information that needs to be known. Stories like this stand to teach people so much, if only they let them. 

What We Saw is a poignant tale about the harsh realities of rape culture in today's society, and even though it made me so angry at the world, I am so glad I read it. Though it is a dark, frustrating novel, it is one of the most relevant of this year, and everyone should read it and learn from it. This is the kind of book that incites change. 


  1. Wow. Sounds like a truly powerful book, Serena. I'm not sure this is a book you enjoy, but it does sound like an important one to read.

    Tanya @ Girl Plus Books

    1. Wow indeed. Yeah, I wouldn't say I enjoyed reading it, but after I was finished, I was truly glad I did. Definitely a powerful novel.