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All The Things We Pretend Not To See

Aaron Hartzler's What We Saw is a nuanced, pitch-perfect look at rape culture today.

All The Things We Pretend Not To See

BOOK REPORT for What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

Cover Story: Textual Feeling
BFF Charm: Big Sister
Swoonworthy Scale: 5
Talky Talk: Plucked From The News
Bonus Factor: Lady Jocks
Anti-Bonus Factor: Awful Grownups
Relationship Status: Moral Support

Cover Story: Textual Feeling

I see what the cover designers were going for with this one, and I think it works – big text over a partially opened door calls to mind a house party and the phrase “behind closed doors.” The colors give it a somber feeling (which is appropriate). It doesn’t call out to me, but it’s tasteful.

The Deal:

Kate Weston was really, really drunk at the latest big high school party. The last thing she clearly remembers is taking some ill-advised shots. But she was not as drunk as Stacey Stallard, who shows up in photos on social media the next morning, clearly blackout drunk and draped over the shoulders of various basketball team members. Whispers of “slut” start echoing throughout the school, but when Stacey presses charges against four team members, the small town is rocked by controversy.

Stacey and her mother are practically exiled; the basketball team are regaled as heroes and martyrs whose lives are being ruined by a vengeful slut. But what if Stacey isn’t lying? How much did the rest of the basketball team – and Kate’s new boyfriend Ben – really see? Why isn’t anyone supporting Stacey, and how far will everyone go to protect each other?

Aaron Hartzler’s pitch-perfect debut YA fictional novel explores rape culture, consent, silence, and taking an unpopular stand.

BFF Charm: Big Sister

Oh, Kate. She’s stuck in between a rock and a hard place – social pressure on one hand, and on the other, not wanting to disturb the throes of new love, but also knowing that she should almost definitely be taking Stacey’s side. Her parents are of no moral support, and her brother is displaying red flag traits of buying into rape culture. What this girl needs is a big sister, and I would happily volunteer. She’s got a good moral compass, and you can’t blame her for feeling conflicted. When your entire town is crucifying anyone who threatens the basketball team’s chance at State, it’s hard to throw yourself in the line of fire.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Despite what’s happening with Stacey, Kate’s new boyfriend (and childhood crush) Ben Cody is sweet, charming, and totally swoonworthy.

Talky Talk: Plucked From The News

As you might have guessed, the plot closely follows the Steubenville rape case, and basically any other rape case where “boys will be boys” and the reputations/sports trophies of the boys are valued over the physical and emotional damage to the girl they raped. The book explores the ideas of being too drunk to consent as well as silence as complicity, and while The Message is woven throughout, it never feels too preachy. Hartzler is excellent at presenting the situations for what they are: nuanced, complex, and a veritable landmine for young people. It’s easy to sit behind a screen and say “you need to speak up,” especially when you’re not the one who would be the target of scorn. Kate knows she needs to speak up, but is understandably conflicted.

Bonus Factor: Lady Jocks

Kate and her girlfriends are all on the soccer team, and that adds another layer of complexity to the situation. Would she do the same thing if it were her friends on her team? What if it were her scholarship in jeopardy?

Also, they’re all pretty badass.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Awful Grownups

I dare you not to RAGE at some of the awful adults portrayed in this book. Not only do Kate’s parents give her deeply questionable advice (“stay out of it”), but the people who support the team because they bring the town some sports glory…it’s like JD McCoy’s parents all over again AND I WANT TO PUNCH THEM ALL. Obviously they’re necessary for the plot, but the fact that people like this really do exist is not good for my blood pressure.

Casting Call:

I had a really good mental image for two characters:

Ansel Elgort as Dooney

This character needs a punchable face, and I refuse to cast Ted Cruz or Mike Huckabee.

Thomas Lacey as Ben

All I could do was picture The Benster from Dance Academy whenever I read about Ben, so, you’re welcome.

Relationship Status: Moral Support

Book, our date was great. You had so many ideas that I agreed with, and you weren’t afraid to stand up for what you believe in. I’m not sure a date like that can be repeated, but when you need some moral support (or just want to burn the world to the ground the next time these headlines happen), call me.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy from Harper Teen. I received neither money nor a pet unicorn for writing this review, despite how hard I wished for one.  What We Saw will be available September 22.

Jennie's photo About the Author: Jennie Kendrick lives in San Francisco and has an excessive fondness of historical fiction, spreadsheets, turquoise sparkly things, and bourbon. When she's not reading, writing, or writing about reading, she cooks obsessively, runs an Etsy shop, and thrifts for vintage everything.