Author: Beck Nicholas
Where to start with What I Saw… I was quickly involved with the story and the characters. It’s a little cliche but at the same time I think most of the YA books on the market are these days, you would be hard pressed to find something completely unique. There are a lot of great elements that I don’t think are addressed enough and that are coming to the forefront in society as a whole at the moment. The one punch campaign is pretty big and there was a fortnight period at the beginning of the year where at least three young men were left in the hospital fighting for their lives after just one punch. So this book is totally topical, engrossing and very much all up in the air until the very end.
The characters were the bad boy from the wrong side of town and the good girl school captain so that was a little pedestrian, until Nicholas starts to flesh these characters and you discover that they are far from their stereotypes.
Setting was very open which I loved. The story could have taken place anywhere and in the beginning I fluctuated quite a bit about whether I thought it was Australian or American. I think the whole football, scholarships and school dances thing had me thinking US but the language and university had me turning back to Australian. I think this is a really great storywriting tool because it gives the book that appeal to teens everywhere, it could have happened in your town – no matter where your town might be.
The plot brings together multiple issues facing teens and explores the snowball effect of all the people that will be impacted by a single decision and the cost of doing the right thing. The main element of course is the devastation left in the wake of one punch. Alongside that is self esteem, secrets, date rape, cheating, rumours, mental health, teenage drinking and abusive relationships. It really is quite a full on read when you put it all down on paper like that but I think Nicholas dealt with it well.
What I Saw is written in the first person in alternating chapters by Callie and Rhett, our leads. This may be another thing that had me thinking US because there are a couple of American YA authors I adore that employ this storytelling method.
Callie is the school captain and all round good girl who has spent the bulk of her life trying to live up to everyone’s expectations and make sure everyone around her is happy, though somewhere along the way she lost sight of what she wants and her own happiness. The book opens with her at the school dance, unhappy about being dateless because she’s been stood up by her long-term, long-distance boyfriend. It must be coming up to the end of the year because scholarship announcements are soon to be made and on the spur of the moment Callie decides to let her hair down a little. A glass of the spiked punch soon leads to two and three, and before we know it Callie is heading outside for some fresh air.
Rhett is the boy from the wrong side of town with a bad temper and a bad reputation. He’s sitting out by the back door of the gym and we don’t really ever find out why, I have a feeling it may have something to do with looking out for his sister. Regardless of the reason, he’s there to help stabilise Callie and that’s when they hear the voice from behind the art centre. Rhett’s sister Scarlett’s voice so he bolts to save the day and that’s when things get messy.
Drunken football players, the town golden boys, are out to have a little fun with the girl with the bad reputation. We never find out what the captain had planned but he turned up with 2 of his mates to a deserted area that he’d invited her to and that would certainly be ringing alarm bells for me, as it was for Rhett. She doesn’t seem to recognise the danger and tries to convince Rhett to leave, but of course he won’t walk away from his sister in a situation like that. The situation escalates and football star Hayden ends up punched in the head and laying unconscious on the ground.
It is so easy to try to protect yourself, your football team and your dreams of a football career by placing blame on the guy who happens to be at the scene that everyone would believe threw the punch. But in the long run is anyone going to be able to live with the knowledge of what really happened.
From this point, early on in the story, everything gets a little more complicated, a little more involved and blows open the facade hiding the real Callie and Rhett.
I found the characters relatable, the storylines realistic and engaging, and I was hooked trying to work out if the truth was ever going to come out.
I would definitely recommend this one. It is targeted for 15yrs+ so please be mindful when recommending to teens.
What I Saw is book #11 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2016.