What We Saw

What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler


The party at John Doone's last Saturday night is a bit of a blur. Kate Weston can piece together most of the details: Stacey Stallard handing her shots, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early … But when a picture of Stacey passed out over Deacon Mills' shoulder appears online the next morning, Kate suspects she doesn't have all the details. When Stacey levels charges against four of Kate's classmates, the whole town erupts into controversy. Facts that can't be ignored begin to surface, and every answer Kate finds leads back to the same question: Who witnessed what happened to Stacey? And what responsibility do they have to speak up about what they saw?


"Why do you like birds so much?" I asked.
A look of pity flitted over her face, followed by a smile. "Because they can fly, silly."

This is not an easy book, but I didn't expect it to be. To be honest, I had totally forgotten what it was about (I had thought it was some kind of thriller?) but I did expect it to be dark and twisted, which it absolutely is - only in a way too real kind of way. Whatever else I have to say about this book: it is definitely worth a read and it will definitely hit you hard when you do read it.

"Remember," Mr. Johnston says, "nothing is exactly as it appears. The closer you look, the more you see."

I want my to get my only point of criticism out of the way because it's not really a problem with the book, not even really a problem I had with a book, simply the only thing I didn't like as much as the rest about this story. The thing is: The themes discussed in this story are vitally important and you need to address them over and over again but a lot of the conversations the characters have (about rape, blame, sexual harassment, and how to treat people without being a prick) I have already discussed widely and extensively. Thus, it was sometimes almost like I was reading a boiled-down number of conversations I've already had, which tends to throw me for a loop, I had to learn the hard way. Then again, as I mentioned above, I can't really criticise these short passages simply because everyone should be aware of all the topics discussed and how they can be twisted into completely irrational and irrelevant arguments against victims.

So, as you might have been able to tell from my desperate attempts to "criticise" this book: I loved What We Saw. It's anything but a happy book, in fact it destroys several of the tropes that constitute a "happy ending". The fact is: rape is an important but devastating subject and Kate is in for quite a ride learning all about exactly how hard it can be to deal with it - even if only peripherally.

But, beside the important topic discussed, this book proves to be a very capable piece of writing: the pacing is amazing (I absolutely flew through the story), the writing is beautiful (there were lots of repetition but with just the right amount of change and in just the right interval), the characters are relatable (the family isn't just present but also important), and … I could go on. 

To be honest, I'm struggling to find the right words for What We Saw. I've been struggling ever since I've finished it. Maybe all I can really say is: I would recommend you check it out and see for yourself and, afterwards, we can sit together, silently and in awe.

This is how an era ends. 
Iowa was once an ocean.
I was once the girl you loved.


4.5/5 stars - but you might have guessed that already.


Name: What We Saw
Author: Aaron Hartzler
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 336
Where?: Amazon


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