Book Review: What We Saw
By:Carina Carlos, 12
A book I couldn't put down this past summer was What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler published in 2015. The book was inspired by real life events involving a rape case in a small town. I never pictured it changing my life when I checked it out, but it cemented my desire to become a feminist and an activist for creating safe campuses and encouraging a “victim-first” mentality.
The book begins with Kate Weston, describing Ben Cody -- a classmate and crush -- taking her home early from a house party at John Doone's house. While at the party she took shots with a very drunk Stacey Stallard who is on the verge of passing out.
The next day, a picture of Stacey, passed out, is circulating the internet with a nasty hashtag. Stacey doesn't show up to school. In that moment, Kate knows that something else happened at that party. She tries to question Ben about what happened after he went back, but he says that he only went back to say goodbye. Something about that seems sketchy and plants seeds of doubt in Kate’s mind.
Before lunch, Ben asks Kate to become his girlfriend and she accepts. They are sitting together at lunch when the town sheriff comes to arrest four basketball players, including John Doone, for sexual assault against Stacey.
By the end of that very same day they had all posted bail and were free.
Nobody believes Stacey’s story because she dresses provocatively and has a reputation for being a slut. Everyone at school is mad and calls her a liar.
Kate and her friend discover a video showing Stacey being raped. Out of disgust, they don't finish watching it. The next day, when Kate reports it to her school counselor, the video is no longer online. Her school counselor believes her, however, reports it to the authorities and gets fired.
Later, Kate overhears the video playing in her younger brother’s room. When she enters, the video is barely starting. She asks where he found it and if he knows what is happening; he replies that his best friend sent it to him and that he doesn't know what is happening. She tells him to play it. Together they watch it. Crying out of disgust, her brother tells her he can't watch any more of it, but she tells him that they have to continue because they have to know what happened that night. She then notices a boy with a scar on his ear. She knows it is Ben because she gave him that scar when they were younger during a soccer game. Together, they take the video to the authorities.
Kate proves herself as a brave young woman when she reports the video and identifies Ben on the video, knowing that most of the town including her own friends would be utterly against her and that it would ruin her relationship with Ben.
Eventually, Kate and her brother have to move schools because people, including some of Kate’s closest friends, resent them for reporting the popular boys as rapists.
This book fascinated me because it forced me to acknowledge that people protect rapists and shame victims by justifying it as “boys just being boys.” They protect them out of fear that it will ruin their lives when the rapists have already ruined someone else's life. Many characters in this book blamed the victim because she dressed a little revealing. That doesn’t mean she was asking to be raped.
One of the main reasons I decided to read this book was because of the Brock Turner case. Turner was convicted of sexual assault and given a lenient and biased light sentence. I was disappointed that the judge didn't give a harsher sentence to Turner. I was further bothered that his justification was that it would ruin Brock’s future when he clearly damaged a young woman’s life indefinitely. While this book is a fictional story, it is based on real life events that could occur anywhere. As a feminist, I want to help create a safe community where all students feel safe attending knowing they won't be frowned upon on for reporting a rape case. And, I want to encourage a culture where the victim comes first.