Aaron Hartzler’s book What We Saw is inspired by the events of the Steubenville rape case in 2011-2, when two student-athletes were accused and convicted of raping a girl who was passed out at a party.
“I never thought I would write an ‘issue book’ but this particular news story really stuck in my mind because my younger sister was still in high school and the ensuing social media storm that happened brought rape culture to the forefront. And I couldn’t shake this idea that there were other kids in Steubenville who were not involved in those events directly but whose lives were being affected by them, and so that’s when the character of Kate popped into my head.”
Social media plays an integral part in the plot of What We Saw, similarly to the Steubenville case. Hartzler discussed how he really wanted social media play such an important role in the story because it’s important in the daily life of teenagers now.
“I didn’t want to shy away from [social media], I wanted to totally embrace it. It was such a huge part of the Steubenville case that I didn’t think I could tell this story without including some element of it.”
As a teen, Hartzler said he needed to see some reflection of himself in the books he read, and he hopes that What We Saw will do that for not only young women, but also young men. As well, he hopes that it will encourage a discussion of rape for teens.
“We have to start understanding that there’s a complicity in silence,” Hartzler said. “There’s the famous quote that ‘for evil to win, all that’s necessary is for good men to do nothing.’ And I think that’s at the heart of this story. That Kate finds out what happens, and then Kate has to find her voice and figure out if she’s going to use it or not. And the way that you use your voice defines who you are.”