‘What We Saw’ by Aaron Hartzler: Young adult social commentary

what we saw

Rating: 4 stars

What happens when a girl from the wrong side of the tracks gets blacked-out drunk at a party and is sexually violated by several of the jocks in attendance? And Kate, another girl who attended the party and got drunk, wonders what happened at that party after she left. Her boyfriend took her home, but the other girl was not as lucky. This book was inspired by the real events that took place in Steubenville, Ohio, when a teenage girl at a party got extremely intoxicated and was raped by several of the jocks from her high school.

The story plays out much as it did in real life, but this time, the reader gets to know the characters involved. The characters that Hartzler creates are people we are familiar with: the son of the wealthy family who feels himself entitled to all he can get away with, and the kids from the poor side of town who are sneered at and mocked by those kids with more money, better clothes, and bigger homes.

The author utilizes first person narration, which helps because the reader knows what Kate is thinking and what her motivation is. Kate thinks about the difference between her and the unfortunate Stacey. Stacey didn’t have friends at the party to help her and take her home safely. Kate had Ben, a friend from childhood who becomes more than a friend over the course of the story.

And when the whole town backs the jocks — because they are the basketball players who are going to take the high school to the state championship — Kate wonders where the town’s morality went. One of the mysteries that Kate wants to solve is who exactly was there when the rapes took place, and how much does Ben know. The answers to those questions is complex, chilling, and predictable. The predictability of the ending doesn’t detract from the story at all — in fact, it feels rather inevitable.

Hartzler’s writing style is polished, and he uses his effective narrative to move the plot along at a rapid pace. It’s a hard book to put down, and at the same time it’s a book that is difficult to read because we know that the events in the story really took place — in small-town America. Perhaps this book should be read — and thoroughly discussed — by all high school freshman. No means no. That’s it.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by HarperTeen for review purposes.