YA book review

What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

What We Saw is a fictional account of a teenage rape loosely inspired by the 2012 Steubenville, OH case where two high school football players were accused and then convicted of raping a teenage girl at a party. The details of the crime are horrific, and reading the news coverage incites anger and outrage in most, due to the way the media and the school administration portrayed the victim as being at fault because of the way she acted, dressed, and the fact that she was drunk and couldn’t say no. Not being able to say no isn’t the same as saying yes. These kids were star football players, and surely they would never commit a crime! And especially not during football season, which would affect their team’s performance. Goodness, no! They were just “boys being boys.” And the worst part was that a video of some of the crime was circulated on social media as if it were a joke. As we know, anything captured on a phone or sent to even one person will never be buried forever. It can always be recovered and lasts forever. Unfortunately, teenagers only think about the present, and they don’t think about how much something like that can harm others and fall back on them so heavily.

Okay, back to the book. Aaron Hartzler did a wonderful job of portraying the story from the perspective of Kate, a girl who was also very drunk at the same party as the victim, but she was driven home earlier in the evening prior to the time of the crime. Kate, a HS junior and soccer player, struggles with guilt because she used to be friends with the victim, fear because it could have been her, and apprehension because she wants to help Stacey (the victim), but everyone else seems to be blaming her and calling her horrible names when she isn’t even at school to defend herself or give the true story. People in the community refer to the crime as a “rumor” and they way they talk about Stacey is downright ugly. In the book, it is four basketball players who commit the crime, so it’s a huge deal for the school to have four star basketball players arrested during the season and right before a major series of games. Oh, and they may lose their college scholarships over this scandal. To complicate matters, Kate begins to date Ben, also a star basketball player and best friends with two of the accused players. She has been close to Ben as friends since they were five, but now they are dating and she finds herself falling in love. However, the fear and helplessness about the case and Stacey overshadow many of the happy feelings with Ben. Against her fathers wishes that she steer clear of the case, she decides that someone has to help Stacey. Even the football coach and principal are trying to cover up evidence, which fuels her mission to find out the truth despite the cost.

To top it all off, there is a bit of a surprise ending. I loved every part of this powerful, beautiful book. The author captured the wide range of emotions so well that I laughed and cried along with Kate. I also enjoyed the relationship between Kate and her brother Will, who is two years younger. If only there were more HS students like Kate and Will in the world. This book should be read by everyone: high school kids, teachers, parents, and even those adults without kids. It is so important for a story like this to be understood in different perspectives. And it is important for people to see just how much social media can devastate lives and cause chaos.

There are some beautiful passages from this book, and one below that I want to share:

At the end when Kate is playing soccer, “I see a hawk soar high above us and feel a rush of gratitude for the knowledge that just this once we have escaped the gaze of a camera lens or a status update. Some moments should only be recorded in our hearts.” Wow. Isn’t that the truth. I look forward to a day when people start recording more moments in their hearts rather than Twitter and Facebook.

Props to you, Aaron Hartzler. This is the kind of literature that we all need. Thank you for writing it.

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