What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I read this book as part of the Better Dead Than Read Bookclub - join us!
‘What We Saw’ is an incredibly powerful book. It is one of those novels that makes you really think about its message, but still manages to avoid being preachy. And it does this, while telling you an interesting story. Hartzler, you genius.
I already considered myself a feminist prior to reading this novel, but ’What We Saw’ really solidified this position for me. I even recommended to a friend who does not self-identify as a feminist to read it, because I think it points out the problems with rape culture in western society succinctly and without being flagrantly accusatory. I can’t reiterate enough – this book is a powerful story about an important and pervasive issue in modern society.
However, very rarely do such topics translate well into fictionalised pieces. I have been disappointed in the past with fictional representations of important issues, and I went into this book expecting to read a boring plot that barely guised the obvious moral of the story. I could not have been more wrong – ‘What We Saw’ has an intriguing and interesting plot with relatable characters, rather than a sermon.
Our MC, Kate, is actually an outsider to the main story line. This made a lot of sense to me – whenever these big stories happen in real life, most people will not be centrally involved. The average person is more likely to be on the fringes of the issue, trying to make sense of it all. Kate is, above all, relatable, because she makes some bad decisions but she never stops striving for the truth. She may not want to believe what is right in front of her face, but when it gets right down to it, she forces herself to acknowledge what has happened.
Kate's friends all represented alarmingly common opinions on sexual assault and rape in general. I applaud Hartzler for putting in writing the words women have heard all their life from their friends and family – things like “if she wasn’t so drunk it would never have happened”, “if you don’t want to be raped, cover your cooch”, “only bad people get raped, it doesn’t happen to good, ordinary women”, and "why would she accuse those boys of rape? She's a bitch for ruining their lives for no reason."
Finally, it would be remiss of me to not (briefly) address the romantic aspects of this novel. Kate’s relationship with Ben was beautiful and realistic and heartbreaking in so many ways. I am happy with how the story left their relationship at the end.
Overall, ‘What We Saw’ was a heartbreaking and truthful representation of rape culture in our society. The major lesson I am taking away from it is doing nothing can be just as bad as being involved. This book should be compulsory reading for all high school students. Read it and you will find out why.
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