What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Actual Rating: 1,000,000

Trigger warning: rape

What We Saw begins with a hangover. It’s the day after a house party, and all Kate remembers are bits and pieces of the night before. But what she does know for sure, is that she got wasted, and Ben, a childhood friend, drove her home early.

But then, when a picture of Stacey Stallard unconsciously draped over Deacon Mills’ shoulder appears online, the school goes into a vicious frenzy.

What is most unexpected, however, is when she accuses four of Kate’s classmates of sexual assault. But what is fact and what is speculation? As the school explodes into controversy, Kate finds herself desperate to know the truth.

This book addresses the blurred line between guilt and innocence and what silence means for victims around the world.

I am adding this book to my all-time favorites shelf. It is beautiful, it is heartbreaking, and it is so important, especially in a world where victims of sexual assault are continuously silenced.

The writing style was phenomenal. One unique thing about What We Saw is how there are small, seemingly trivial memories that parallel the bigger picture. It means you really have to realize that the little things matter.

Why? Because a little idea could blow up into something bigger. Example: Rape culture. One thing that people don’t seem to understand is that rape culture is everyone’s problem. The idea that “boys will be boys” has poisoned modern society, and instead of telling boys how to respect others, we teach girls how to fear the outside world.

This book reminded me of the Brock Turner case. He was convicted of raping a woman while she was unconscious and should’ve gotten at least six years in jail. He received six months. The defense?
He was humble and dedicated.
He was a good student.
He was a champion swimmer.

Oh, and poor, poor, boy. His life will never be the same because of “20 minutes of action”.

Similarly, the perpetrators in this book are pardoned. Their crimes are overlooked, just because they had been loved members of society.

And the victim? She is slut-shamed, she is bullied, and her name is dragged through the mud.

And the fact that this is so close to reality is absolutely terrifying.

I thought the characters in this were amazing. Kate’s internal conflicts are painstakingly real – what would you do if the person you love is in the wrong?

She taught me the importance of speaking up – even if it seems like the hardest thing to do.

This was one of the books where romance takes a backseat. It’s there, but it’s not nearly as important, and I think that is one of the greatest parts of this books – it showed really powerful character development.

The characters in this were definitely very varied. It’s realistic. There are people who don’t care, those who do but are too afraid to speak up, and those who are brave enough to. And then there are those who blame the victim and those who doubt them and worst of all, those who commend the crime.

The horrible thing is that those last people exist. But at the same time, there are those who fight till the end.

I feel like I could go on and on and on about all the beautiful things about this book, but I’ll just stop this here.

Thank you to Kate, who taught me the importance of doing the right thing and how it changes people.

The layers of my life will slowly cover and fill the gulf cleft through my heart. But deep in the bedrock of who I am is a record of these things that I will carry with me, a new map whose boundaries have forever altered the way I view the world.

Thank you to Lindsey, for saying what consent means and learning to be brave.

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

Thank you to Will, who showed me that there was hope.

Will nods. He swipes at his eyes. “Nobody does,” he whispers. “Nobody deserves this.”

Thank you to Mr. Johnson, who tried to add a lot more goodness into the world.

“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’.”
“That’s not okay with me, Reggie.” He points at the list on the whiteboard. “That’s not okay with the rest of this class, either.”

And thank you, most of all, to Aaron Hartzler, for writing such a beautiful and realistic story for all the Staceys in the world.

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