What We Saw
By Aaron Hartzler
Trigger Words: sexual assault, rape
This story—inspired by real events—from debut novelist Aaron Hartzler takes an unflinching look at silence as a form of complicity. It’s a book about the high stakes of speaking up, and the razor thin line between guilt and innocence that so often gets blurred, one hundred and forty characters at a time.
I had picked this book up from the library shelf eons ago. I finally grabbed it from my toppling pile of books and read it almost straight through in two days. The story resonated with me for many reasons. It’s a story about sexual assault on a minor that’s witnessed by many classmates at a party. The volatile world of rape culture has been at the foremost of people’s news lately. Last summer, the shocking lenient sentence was issued to the Stanford swimmer who dragged an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and raped her. Our own elected leader has claims against him for sexual assault, which he paid to have ‘go away’. Every time I turn around, I feel like I’m hearing another story of a poor victim trying to fight the system to gain themselves some justice. And so many times, the system lets them down.
Hartzler dives right into the main issue with rape culture, the sense of compliance. Too often, people dismiss the abusive and degrading things men say and do as ‘boys will be boys’ and that’s at the heart of ‘What We Saw’. Kate, the protagonist, grapples with uncertainty about the events of what happened the night it all went down. She wasn’t there when it happened but she knew everyone that was. She struggles with understanding how her school, the administration and fellow peers could so easily accept that the boys in question are innocent and the girl is lying. We see that too often in the world today. Ultimately, Kate can not stand aside and just ‘be alright’ with everything. She seeks out the truth, knowing full well that she might not like what she finds.
It’s a difficult subject to read about and you know in the end, relationships will be tested, trust will be lost and hearts will be broken. But it’s an important topic that needs to stay in the light and be talked about. Hartzler’s writing makes the story flow along well. Even though I was going to end the story with a heavy heart, I was still caught up in the feelings and thoughts of the characters. Bravo to Aaron Hartzler for tackling a tough subject.