Saturday, September 19, 2015

Reviews: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

Title: What We Saw
Author: Aaron Hartzler
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Coming of Age
Source: HarperTeen via Edelweiss

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.
Review by Nara

Nothing is exactly as it appears.
The closer you look, the more you see.
What We Saw is just so utterly realistic- horrifyingly so. How often do you see victims of crimes like murder, assault, even something more minor like theft, being blamed for being targeted? And now how often do you see blame being laid in the wrong place for a crime like rape? Too freaking often. And that's exactly what happens in this book. Stacey is a girl who dresses in a short skirt, has too much to drink, is labelled "slutty", and becomes the victim of a horrifying crime where almost everyone is on the side of those who perpetrated it. We see the book from the point of view of a bystander, Kate, who initially doesn't know the details of what happened that night, as she was taken home early from the party.

The reactions of the other characters to what happens is varied, with protagonist Kate wanting to know the details of what happened, probably because she was also drunk that night, and found the circumstances too close for comfort. On the other hand, there are many characters who don't want to get involved or don't care. Yet another group are angry that Stacey has pressed charges, and blame her for "ruining" the lives of the four people who raped her. The book is realistic right down to the very ending, which I won't say too much about because spoilers, but I can certainly say that there were some aspects of it that weren't the fairy-tale ending that one might have been expecting.

The other thing is, the voice of the protagonist is so convincingly female. I was actually pretty surprised when I checked back to see who the author was and saw that it was a male writer. Kate is insecure about her new relationship with her childhood friend Ben, and struggles to balance keeping everyone happy with her suspicions about what happened that night. Reading from her point of view, it's clear that she's facing quite the dilemma, when all she wants to do is "the right thing".

I feel like What We Saw is an important book for older teens to read. While it does touch on adult themes, these are important issues that the younger generation needs to understand, so that something like this doesn't happen in reality.

Really liked it
Overall: 8/10
Plot: 4/5
Romance: 3.5/5
Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Cover: 2/5