At last semester’s Pee Dee Fiction and Poetry Festival, I bought the book “What We Saw” because I had enjoyed reading another novel by Aaron Hartzler, “Rapture Practice.” As I expected, Hartzler and “What We Saw” did not disappoint.
The book is focused on sexual assault, a topic that is finally starting to come to the forefront of society as a problem facing young people particularly. It is about a teenage girl, Stacey, getting drunk at a house party, and after she is passed out, she is assaulted by three of her classmates while others watch and video the horrific scene. The story is told in the point of view of Kate Weston, a classmate of Stacey’s. The majority of “What We Saw” follows Stacey filing a complaint against her attackers and Kate’s hunt to find out what actually happened the night of the party. Kate gotten drunk as well, but she was taken home by a guy who liked her.
Kate discovers the truth about what happened to Stacey at the party, and she then has to decide what she is going to do with the information. She must quickly decide if the the information should to be turned over to the police even though her current boyfriend would get in trouble and her friends and most of the school would turn against her for going to the cops.
I think that this is a choice that not many high school students would make, but easily Hartzler demonstrates the decision that should be made in this situation.
There is so much about this book that makes it worth reading. The book is tackling a subject that honestly we do not talk about enough. It is a taboo that most people do not want to think about. Rape and sexual assault are more common occurrences than most of society would like to admit; however, we should be moving towards not only acknowledging that this is happening to both women and men, but we should be working to prevent this violence. “What We Saw” also insists that people must look at situations a little deeper and speak up when they think or know that something is going on even when it is not the popular decision to make.
A phrase found frequently in the story is “the closer you look, the more you see.” This phrase is again referencing that we do not see this issue occurring, especially to high school students and college students because we not looking for it. Acknowledging that there is a problem is the first step to working on fixing the problem.
The novel is written about high school students, and the language and tone of the novel is directed more towards a high school audience. Hartzler portrays the thought processes and actions of high school students seamlessly. As I was reading “What We Saw,” I kept thinking that is exactly what I would have done or said in high school. Even though the story involves high school students, it is still relatable to college students. As I said before, the issue of rape is something that college students are facing as well. Other issues, such as peer pressure and trying to fit in, are also part of college life and present in the story.
The content, the language and the mental trip back to high school all make “What We Saw” a fast and enjoyable read. Even though the subject matter is not the happiest, the novel is an enlightening and interesting story about sexual assault as seen from a peer’s point of view.