Oct 16, 2015

Review: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

Title: What We Saw
Author: Aaron Hartzler
Publication Date: 9.22.2015
Series: N/A
Source:  Finished copy from publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Summary (from Goodreads):
Kate Weston can piece together most of the bash at John Doone’s house: shots with Stacey Stallard, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early—the feeling that maybe he’s becoming more than just the guy she’s known since they were kids.

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 question: Where was Ben when a terrible crime was committed?

This story—inspired by real events—from debut novelist Aaron Hartzler takes an unflinching look at silence as a form of complicity. It’s a book about the high stakes of speaking up, and the razor thin line between guilt and innocence that so often gets blurred, one hundred and forty characters at a time.

I’m still at a loss for how to review this book. Short of the massive amounts of twitter and email fangirling I’ve done about it, putting into words why this book is so special is agonizingly hard. WHAT WE SAW is not an easy book. This book gutted me in a way I can only ever remember one other book doing in my 3 decades of living and reading.

WHAT WE SAW is a book ripped from the headlines. You know the story. I know the story. But reading it this way, in Kate’s perspective versus seeing the 30 second news clips as you’re changing from a day at work/school is much different. You can’t shrug off the behavior as “boys will be boys” and it makes you question things.

What would you do? Would you do the right thing? How do you know what the right thing is?

Aaron Hartzler has a quiet grace throughout this book that is mesmerizing. Often with “issue books”, the voice of the author bleeds into the characters, almost directing (often time unintentionally) the readers’ thoughts to make specific conclusions. Hartzler doesn’t do this. He gently and tactfully presents the facts the way one would peel the layers of an onion.

And yes, each layer will make your eyes sting and your gut clench harder than the next.

This book is hard to get through. I had to walk away multiple times. It’s been 2 weeks and I’m in tears writing this review, remembering the way character’s betrayed me and feeling the impact of that. WHAT WE SAW will linger with you for a long time after you read it, and it should.

Hartzler will challenge you to think. He will leave you wondering “what if” until the wee hours of the morning. But this is one of those books where you have to feel that and remember that while books are fun and great and exciting, they can also be humbling and educational and warnings.


  1. I've read nothing but great things about this book. Hopefully, I will get it soon. Glad that you enjoyed this!

  2. I completely agree with you about this book - it was incredibly hard to read, but worth every heart-wrenching minute!!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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