WHAT WE SAW by Aaron Hartzler: A Review of 34% of the Book

As much of anything, I’m dusting off my blog to confess to quitting on a book that isn’t bad. But it does make me uncomfortable because I personally don’t want to read about people defending rapists or denouncing a rape victim, even if it’s realistic and is making a good point about rape culture in our society. I guess I feel guilty because Brandi would tell me that quitting this particular book is my male privilege, that she and others like her deal with the consequences of our shitty culture every day, so suck it up sport and finish the book. But still, I quit reading it. I seek your vindication.

The book is called What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler. It is a fictional version of the Steubenville rape case. It takes place in a small town in Iowa and the main character is a girl who is suddenly dating her childhood best friend, who is on the basketball team. There’s a party, and four of her boyfriend’s teammates are arrested for sexual assault. It took me 34% of the book to get that far. Of course, once the arrests happen, the assaults on the victim’s character begin. And then we switch back to our main character getting ready for the hipster ball (a spring dance where they wear thrift store clothes, so yeah I’m gonna call it the hipster ball because that’s what it’d be called).

That’s where I called it quits.

It wasn’t a bad book, per se. The prose was good, and the characters were distinct enough that I could keep them straight (really the only fleshed out characters up to that point were the protagonist and her love interest, but the secondary characters didn’t fade into the background, so that’s a plus.) I know from the reviews that it’s supposed to be an examination and indictment of rape culture, but….
1) The first third of the book’s focus is on the love story, and then this terrible thing happening in the background. There are somewhat low stakes at play for the protagonist, so that’s kind of dull. Not that I’d want to read a book about a girl who’d been assaulted, but still. It feels voyeuristic. “Look at the bad thing happening to her.” I don’t find myself caring if this character eventually sticks up for the victim (someone she was friends with, once upon a time, but isn’t now, and I’m supposed to believe she’s gonna set her life on fire for eventually? Doubtful. Even if at the start of the terrible night in question they were drinking together.). The slice-of-life literary tale is the forefront in the early part of the book, and it’s not very interesting.
2) Small town politics, especially involving allowing basketball players on the high school team almost literally get away with murder, is not something I need to read about to know it exists. I hail from the lovely town of Warsaw, Indiana, and let me tell you about the high school as it was when I attended. The school was literally built around the basketball court, which is located in the exact center of the building. Every other extracurricular activity raised money for the basketball team and then got the scraps that remained. They got new uniforms pretty regular while the band and other groups used old stuff. Basketball players, especially good ones on years we went to state, got away with whatever they wanted, and coasted through class. So it’s not breaking news that this happens, or a portrait I need to look at.
3) I am aware that rape culture is a thing and that it’s awful and if there was a way to condense it into one person I’d put every ounce of that shit on Donald Trump and BURN THAT MOTHERFUCKER ALIVE so the world could be a better place. To say women the world over are treated like second class citizens the world over is a joke because it would imply that at least they’re treated like citizens.
I don’t really like the idea of writing a review of a book that I didn’t finish. I don’t want to throw shade at this particular book, as I’m not really in a place to do so. All I can do is list reasons why I wanted to give up on it as a reader. If you can stomach it I encourage you to read it and let me know how it was for you. As a YA book, I’d say it’s a story that needs to be told, so young people can see the world as it unfortunately truly is. There maybe quite a few teens who pick this book up and it resonates and helps them feel less alone. For me, it just made me angry, and if I want to feel angry I’ll just watch the news.
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About wombatdeamor
I am a writer who has yet to be published. I am using this blog to shame myself into writing more regularly, in the hopes that I will be able to improve the "About Yourself" box to something less awkward. I also like to cook and use profanity.

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