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I Belong

Review: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

What We SawTitle: What We Saw

AuthorAaron Hartzler

Genre: YA Contemporary

Series: N/A

Publication Date: September 22, 2015

Format: Hardcover, 321 Pages

ISBN-10  0062338749 (Harper Teen)

ISBN-13:  978-0062338747 (Harper Teen)

Reviewed byMichelle


Critically acclaimed memoirist Aaron Hartzler, author of Rapture Practice, takes an unflinching look at what happens to a small town when some of its residents commit a terrible crime. This honest, authentic debut novel—inspired by the events in the Steubenville rape case—will resonate with readers who’ve ever walked that razor-thin line between guilt and innocence that so often gets blurred, one hundred and forty characters at a time.

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’s 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 questions: Who witnessed what happened to Stacey? And what responsibility do they have to speak up about what they saw?

National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti calls What We Saw “a smart, sensitive, and gripping story about the courage it takes to do what’s right.”

Quick & Dirty: While I admire Hurtzler and his work, I wasn’t a huge fan of What We Saw.

Opening Sentence: This video doesn’t show you everything.

Excerpt: Yes

The Review:

I have contemplated what I was planning to say for my review of What We Saw by Aaron Hurtzler. I started this book about 5 different times. Each time, I would get to a different point of the story and would experience a plethora of emotions. My review for What We Saw will be a bit different than what I would normally write. While I admire Hurtzler and his work, I wasn’t a huge fan of What We Saw. Let me explain why.

What We Saw is about a town and the culture surrounding it. It is about a party that got out of hand and the and the effects of that. Kate doesn’t have a clear recollection of what happens that night, and attempts to piece together everything that is unfolding before her while trying to gather the bits and pieces of her own memories.

What We Saw is real, in your face, and peels off the band aid from the harsh truth. Hurtzler discusses everything about what happens when a small community faces a sexual assault. Reading about the events from everybody’s point-of-view was hard to digest. While I felt What We Saw was realistic, at times I felt it was a bit too much.

Since I had a hard time connecting to the story, I had a hard time relating to the characters. Kate was a light element of the story. Her diligence and tenacity kept the story without too much emotion. I was able to look at the story in a black and white way versus the ugly shades of grey that I was experiencing.

While I didn’t fully connect to the story, that didn’t stop me from appreciating Hurtzler’s craft. His writing style is a testament of why I was so emotionally affected by What We Saw. His words, his characters, his story…they were all too realistic. I would often, at times, get lost in the story because of how everything was pieced together. Hurtzler’s pacing and fluidity was also a great addition to his story telling.

I am a fan of Hurtzler, regardless if What We Saw and I connected. I appreciate his thoughts on this subject and hope that you would too.

Notable Scene:

He clicks to a closer-up of the bare limestone at the base of the reservoir. I catch my breath as the outlines of a hundred different fossilized organisms pop into sharp focus on the screen. It’s beautiful. The floodwaters that carried away Miss Candy’s studio and my dad’s job left behind the outline of an ancient world, evidence of the way things used to be.

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

There are still ten minutes of class to go, but something outside the window catches my eye. A hawk circles the trees at the back of the parking lot. She soars out of sight over the school, then appears again and perches on a nest lodged at the highest branches of the tallest oak. Is that what Stacey is always staring at?

Nothing is exactly as it appears.

The closer you look, the more you see.


FTC Advisory: HarperCollins provided me with a copy of What We Saw.  No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.


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