When four of Kate Weston’s classmates are charged for rape, her town becomes the centre of a huge controversy. News crews stake out at the school, her parents suggest she try to stay out of the way, and the entire school seems to direct their anger toward Stacey Stallard, the girl who levelled the charges. Though Kate doesn’t remember all the details of the party that the alleged rape occurred at, she saw the pictures of a passed out Stacey that showed up online the next morning. Kate suspects that details are missing, but every fact she uncovers threatens the foundation upon which she has built her teenage life.
Aaron Hartzler did a fantastic job in capturing the voice of Kate. The first-person, present-tense narration captures her inner turmoil. She wants to preserve her social life, she also wants to find the truth and help Stacey, and she wants those desires not to be mutually exclusive. I found it easy to relate to Kate and as I read, I found myself sharing her desires. I wanted her to find the truth, and I wanted her to do the right thing, and I wanted her to find happiness with Ben (a childhood friend turned romantic interest who also happens to be the best friend of one of the accused boys). I wanted there to be hope in what is too often an ugly world.
Though I found Kate an interesting and realistic character, I have to admit that this book was hard for me to read. Not because it’s a bad novel – in fact, I think it’s a very well-written and poignant story – but because it deals with difficult subject matter in such sadly realistic way. What We Saw depicts rape culture in the forms of slut-shaming, victim blaming, and sympathy for the accused and the truly heartbreaking part of this is that the novel was inspired by true events.
That being said, the beauty of this book is that it made me, as a reader, face a choice similar to Kate’s. I could stop, put the book down, and try to forget that the crimes committed in this book happen all too often in reality. Or I could proceed and acknowledge that these things do happen and by continuing, take (in a small, small way) a stand against them through that acknowledgement.
It is my hope that people pick up this book and face that same choice. Books like this are important because they show us a reality that we often don’t want to see. And it is only by seeing them, and educating ourselves about them, that we can ever do anything to make a difference. Even if what we do is just refusing to remain silent.
Final verdict: An important read, if at times difficult. Go pick it up because it’s definitely worthwhile!