{Review} WHAT WE SAW by Aaron Hartzler

O P E N I N G   H O O K:

  THIS VIDEO DOESN'T SHOW you everything.
  For instance, you can't tell that it's been raining or that the grass is still wet beneath our cleats. I'm five years old in the shaky footage, which was shot before you could make a video using your phone. I pull out Dad's old camera every once in a while and watch my first game. This tape from twelve years ago is always inside when I do. Nobody else has used this weird little machine with the flip-out screen for a long time. Back then, Dad says every gadget had a single purpose: Phones were for making calls, video cameras were for shooting videos.

(page 1, US hardcover edition)

"The heart is a muscle, it would seem, both literally and figuratively. It does some things like beating and loving from memory, completely on its own."


WHAT WE SAW is a story ripped straight from the headlines, dealing with a hot button topic that will be a trigger to many readers: rape, and who is at fault. When a high school girl gets drunk and passes out, is it her fault for her partying ways, or the football team's fault for being unable to conrtol themselves?

Kate is appalled when she hears the rumors circulating that after she left John's party, something happened to her childhood friend Stacey. Could this have possibly happened? Even worse is the way her classmates are acting about it. Stacey was trashy, her skirts were always too short, she deserved it. But is that really the end of the story? And could Ben, the childhood-friend-turned-love-interest, know more than he's letting on? What's right when everyone around Kate is saying to sit tight and not go digging for answers? Speaking out will destroy the football team and bring her community's wrath upon her, but staying silent might just condemn an innocent girl. This isn't Kate's fight, but the burning need to know the truth might just make it hers.

Why is it that rape is one of the only crimes where the reasoning behind WHY would convict a guy, but it's frequently the girl's fault for her mannerisms and he tends to get off scot-free. (I'm not saying gals aren't rapists, too, because they are. But most cases that go to court and are dismissed are from this angle, so...)  In the last couple of years, I've even seen news reports about how, by reporting rape, teenage girls have caused innocent boys to have their futures destroyed. Well, guess what, her life is destroyed, too! For his actions. Why shouldn't he suffer the consequences when he's in the wrong? Aaron Hartlzer explores this psychology and the way we view rape culture--especially involving high schoolers--in sharp detail.

WHAT WE SAW is important because it's a conversation starter. There aren't enough YA books that deal with rape and the fallout as seriously as this novel does, and it's been getting a lot of early buzz. In fact, I had initially overlooked the title, but gave it a second glance after seeing it spotlighted in the Publisher's Launch Spotlight earlier this year. I wanted to find out....well....what they saw! I had to know the answers! The summary snagged me from the get-go and I was too curious not to read this, despite contemporary not being my forte. 

The buzz has been growing stronger and stronger closer to launch because of the importance of the topic. Girls need to be informed of what they're up against, of society's double standards, and WHAT WE SAW is a great way to do so, especially because it is absolutely from a modern teen's POV. They know what hashtags are. Like Kate, they're from a world where cellphones have always been smart and older technology is obsolete. They know have to be cyber-bullies, how to make something go viral. This book speaks the language of the modern teenager, making it likelier to get its message across and make teens think.


Because, okay, I think a minor sub-plot that is REALLY AWESOME is going to be 100% overlooked. I love that rape isn't the only serious topic being talked about in WHAT WE SAW. I love that Ben's mom is a compulsive couponer and that she's a hoarder. Well, I don't love that she has that illness. But I love that it's been talked about. It reminds me of why CJ Omololu first made waves on my reading radar with her novel DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS. I wish more books dealt with this topic! 

I'm also a fan of the fact that there is PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT in this book and that parents are talking with their teens and helping them make good decisions. Because....it doesn't happen enough in YA!

Ultimately, WHAT WE SAW has a lot of strong, powerful messages. There will be many people who shy away from the book, but many more who need it. This book will save and resonate with many people, and it's important to make sure it gets into teen hands.

Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: PG13+ ( kissing ;non-graphic sexual situations )
Language:  PG13+ ( Foul language, derogatory terminology, at least one f-bomb, use of degrading words shuch as slut, many instances of hashtag terminology R&P )
Violence: PG13+ ( Rape violence; semi-descriptive, at least in the lead-up )
Other: PG13+ ( Underage drinking/partying/etc. )
C O V E R   D E S I G N: 

It's very mysterious! I like that there's no person on the cover. 

The  title is eye-catching, especially paired with a door and all that darkness. 

WHAT DID THEY SEE!? Any reader would pick this up to see what type of book it is!
O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Aaron Hartzler
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Publisher: HarperTeen
Received: For Review

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.