What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

I bought this book about a week ago along with a bunch of other books about sexual assault on the back of a tweet from a high school library, of all places. I started it yesterday morning on my commute to work and finished it before bedtime. It left me wanting to sit quietly in a dark corner for a little while.

The story, like so many of these books, is inspired by true events and it’s likely to be a familiar story; high school party, an unconscious girl, social media and a sports team who suddenly have ‘their lives ruined by a girl who cries rape’. Only that’s not the whole story and Kate, who narrates the book, is determined to understand what makes her different from the victim. Why did she get just as drunk and end up being driven home? Why is everyone suddenly so keen to pretend Stacey was never their friend and classmate? What happened to the video that was supposedly recorded of that night?

One of the incredible things about this book is it brings up so many important things about consent, slut-shaming, toxic masculinity, victim blaming and rape culture naturally within the characters interactions. It doesn’t feel like a forced conversation- and I am completely in favour of pushing for these conversations- the characters are just carefully crafted and engineered to bring these things to the forefront of our minds. 

What We Saw deals with the problems of social media and how instantly gratifying it can be to tear people down and see others do the same, how damaging that is to young people in need. More than anything it’s a terrifying look in to small town, misguided camaraderie and how it can manifest in to the hero worship of young men and the demonisation of young women who somehow ‘threaten’ their futures by pressing charges about sexual assault. It happens. It needs to be addressed and talked about and changed.

Aaron Hartzler manages to capture the horrors of rape and victim blaming without being gratuitous or, more importantly, missing the point that rape is about violence and power, not sex. It’s horrific without feeling like that plot point is there for our entertainment, which I think is important for a book about this topic. 

I probably could go on and on. Instead I’ll just urge you to go and read it.


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