What We Saw
Author: Aaron Hartzler
Publisher: HarperCollins, fiction
“You think what happened to Stacey was fair game. It was boys being boys.
“Just a trashy girl learning the hard way what can happen when she drinks too much and wears a short skirt.”
Kate Weston doesn’t remember much about the party at John Doone’s house. She remembers drinking, she remembers having fun. And she remembers Ben driving her home.
So she’s surprised when she sees a picture of Stacey flung over Deacon Mills’ shoulder, and the whispers that accompany it.
We’ve heard the stories. We’ve shaken our heads at the accounts. And we’ve all, at one point or another, asked: “What was she wearing? Was she drunk?”
And the worst of all: “She must have wanted it, and now she’s blaming those poor boys”.
Inspired by true events, What We Saw is a harsh and compelling narrative about rape culture.
About how the victim is blamed, and how the perpetrators are held up to be blameless, about how the victim is tried, judged and sentenced by the community she lives in because of the way she dresses and where she comes from.
Told from Kate’s perspective, What We Saw explores all of this and also exposes the culture of silence society adopts.
Kate is told by her father to keep her head down and not attract attention. She’s told by her teachers, her principal, that she knows nothing, she saw nothing.
That it would be best if she just focused on herself.
Kate’s busy falling in love with Ben, but she knows that something’s not right with Stacey’s case.
And as more and more information is revealed, she’s forced to re-evaluate everything and everyone she knows.
Rape, victim blaming and slut shaming aren’t easy subjects to tackle. Yet author Aaron Hartzler has done so with a brutal honesty that hurts.
Reading the book, you feel for Kate, and you feel for Stacey.
More than that, Hartzler manages to evoke a helpless anger at how the people around Kate – from her classmates, to the football coach, to the principal – immediately blame Stacey for everything. It’s sickening, and it feels real.
It was fascinating to recognise the parallels between Kate and Stacey.
Kate is the good girl, a sportswoman from a stable family, with a blossoming romance with a guy she’s known since she was five.
Stacey is from the trailer park, wears tight clothes, hangs out with a bad crowd, and has a single mum who works in the diner (and who’s rumoured to be more than just a waitress).
Kate herself throughout the book thinks back to that night, knowing that it could have just as easily been her – she was just as drunk as Stacey. The only difference was that she had someone who cared about her.
Hartzler has created a world where every character stands out crystal clear, especially when they’re in the spotlight.
It’s as if a camera pans to each of them and they are stripped down to their base self. No one is spared, not even Kate, the main character.
The book touches a nerve. In fact, it touches all the nerves.
Maybe because this issue is still very much relevant all over the world. Women are blamed for being raped, sexually harassed and shamed into keeping silent.
And that’s why this book is so important. It’s not just a well-written piece of fiction. It’s a treatise on what is going on around the world, every day. And it explains why consent is so extremely important.
The little light at the end of the tunnel comes in the form of Kate. She stands up, she speaks out. And justice is done.
And that, more than anything, shows the reader that silence is complicity. That in order to fight injustice, you need to speak out.
What We Saw is powerful and honest. And to think that this is Aaron Hartzler’s debut novel … well, all I can say is: Watch out world, this man packs a punch. One that’s much-needed.