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BOOK REVIEW: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

| 20 September 2015 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

Harper Teen
September 2015
Hardcover, $17.99 USD
Reviewed by Aly Locatelli





There’s more to what’s happening in this footage than two news anchors can discuss in a ninety-second live report. It doesn’t show you that some of the students standing in those bleachers would like to know what really happened Saturday night. It can’t explain that some of us used to call Stacey Stallard a friend. It can’t assure you that not everyone has decided who’s guilty or picked a side or even understands where the battle lines are drawn. It can’t show you that a girl was missing from the drill team on the court, or that I want to know what she has to say.
And in that sense, this video doesn’t show you anything at all.

There are some books that hit so close to home, they are difficult to talk about. Having grown up in small towns my entire life, What We Saw was really easy to relate to: small town scandals are bigger and badder than inner-city scandals. Small towns group together and rally against the Big Bad to protect their children, their families and their friends. Small town rumours are more painful and harder to shake and even harder to ignore. When you live in a small town, it’s difficult to not pick a side and remain as neutral as Switzerland.

Their eyes seem to be staring through the screen directly at me. Accusing me. Blaming me. Lumping me in with all the other kids in that gym. According to them, we aren’t individual students. We aren’t people with our own thoughts and opinions.
We’re a mob and we are circling the wagons to protect our own.

What We Saw is a book about a small town, a reputation-destroying scandal and the lives of a handful of teenagers that will never be the same again. After a Saturday night party, a picture appears of Stacey Stallard thrown over Deacon Mills’s shoulder. Kate can easily picture what happened at the party, and her early night, but once she sees the picture, she starts wondering what else happened. When Stacey presses charges against four of Kate’s classmates, the town explodes against her and Kate starts hunting for the truth. What happened to Stacey? And where was Ben, her childhood best friend and boyfriend, when the crime was committed?

Kyle kept drumming on Stacey: liar, slut, liar, slut. Phoebe and the Tracies were there, too, nodding and tapping their nails on the table: Bitch’ll be sorry. Bitch’ll be sorry.

Slut-shaming is a huge topic in books: girls judged by the way they look, how they dress and how many guys they’ve slept with. In What We Saw, Hartzler perfectly illustrates high school mentality and how being “different” isn’t accepted. How, if you’re a girl who likes sex, likes dressing up, likes being pretty, you will never be a victim. Stacey’s story, narrated by Kate as she pieces together the events of the party, is one we’ve all heard before: she was popular with the boys, she dressed up, she wore make up, and that meant she’d asked for it. 

Is that a cliche? Too much eyeliner on the girl who isn’t paying attention in class?
This is just a thing we do, I guess– determine who people are by what they look like. A smoky eye means you’re mysterious and dangerous and a little wild, right? Too sexy to care about geology.
Don’t judge a book by its cover. Mom is always saying that, but most of the time, I think that’s exactly what people are asking us to do: Please. Judge me by my cover. Judge me by exactly what I’ve worked so hard to show you. 

But Kate and Stacey used to be friends, ex team-mates on the soccer team, and Kate knows Stacey isn’t what everyone is making her out to be. She’s not a wolf out to destroy the basketball team; she’s not the predator. She’s the victim. And Kate is going to find out exactly what happened.

“Stacey’s clothes were pretty revealing,” she says through the curtain. “My mom wouldn’t have let me walk to the kitchen in that outfit she was wearing.”
“Wait,” Lindsey says. “Just because she’s wearing skimpy clothes means that she’s lying about those guys forcing themselves on her?”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” says Christy. “It’s Stacey’s word against theirs. She’s accusing them.” Christy settles on a pair of platform shoes and turns to address me and Lindsey. “Look, this is not rocket science. It’s common sense. If you don’t ant to work a guy into a lather, keep your cooch covered up.”

Yet, taking sides is costing Kate her friendships both outside and inside school. Girls are rallying against Stacey, calling her names and not believing anything she claims. The fact that Kate is sticking up for her is only worse: Kate is picking up the flack that Stacey is not around to bear.

Christy sits up fast, the gleam of nearby gossip in her eyes. “Who’d they say was the hottest?”
“Not the girl they were giving a seen to when I stopped them,” I say.
Christy laughs, and I shoot her a look. “What?” she says. “Boys will be boys.”
“That’s bullshit.” All three of us turn to look at Lindsey.
“Lighten up,” says Rachel.
Lindsey isn’t having it. “‘Boys will be boys’ is what people say to excuse guys when they do something awful.”

In a town where the basketball players rank as high up as gods; in a town where voices are smothered under palms and avoiding looks; in a town where the truth struggles to breathes, What We Saw shows exactly how brutal communities can be, how speaking up and silence are on both ends of a razor-sharp edge, and how easy it is to ignore the truth when the lie is so much prettier and easier to sleep with at night.


Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

About the Author ()

21. A reader, a writer, a reviewer and a full-time sloth lover. I am addicted to coffee and my laptop, and love reading especially when it's rainy outside.

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