I started reading What I Want You to See by Catherine Linka expecting a fun, fascinating thriller about the inner working of the art world, and while this book is all of those things, what I was not expecting was such a deep, thoughtful book about moral questions of right and wrong.
Sabine Reyes is supposed to be living the dream. She’s won a full ride to prestigious art school CALINVA, every art student’s dream. None of her rich classmates know her less-than-glamorous past, including the summer she spent sleeping in her car after her mom died. She has a job, a place to live, paint and canvas, and maybe even a few friendships budding.
But art school isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Her scholarship isn’t guaranteed — in order to keep it, she has to prove that her talent is developing, but Professor Colin Krell, world renowned artist, does nothing but tear her down. She feels like she’s learning nothing and more importantly, she might lose her spot. Her new friends may be nice, but would they accept her if they knew the truth about her?
Then one night while working at the local art supply shop, Sabine runs into Adam, a grad student at CALINVA who knows her pain. Immediately she is attracted to him on all kinds of levels — he’s hot, he hates Krell, and he thinks she has real talent. She feels comfortable around him in a way she just doesn’t with anybody else. She finds herself spending more and more time with him until he offers to show her something that nobody else has seen — Krell’s masterpiece in progress.
Once she sees it, Sabine can’t get it out of her mind. All she wants is to paint it herself, and Krell did tell her to copy a painting she connects with as a way to find what she wants to say, but she can’t imagine Krell would give her permission to do such a thing. When Adam offers her a way to copy it without Krell’s knowledge, she knows that it’s wrong. But unless her painting skills improve, she might have to say goodbye to her new life…
Nothing is more delightful than slowly realizing things the protagonist doesn’t know yet and turning every page with both eagerness and horror, needing to know what comes next but dreading it all the same. This book, although light on standard thriller conventions, makes your heart race all the same.
Sabine is a deeply flawed character who continually makes wrong choice after wrong choice until I am tempted to throw down the book and scream at her. And yet even as I’m angry at her, I completely understand why she makes each choice. No choice has a clear-cut right or wrong answer. It might seem like it at first, but the longer you look, the more blurry it becomes. Sabine is achingly realistic and through her character, Linka looks at homelessness and the grief of losing a parent in a painful and vulnerable way.
Although Sabine is by far the main focus of this book, all the supporting characters feel complex and real as well. In fact, I often found myself getting just as frustrated with them, but also loving them just as much. This novel is in the YA age category, but the main character is a freshman in college, and I loved the dynamic of focusing on a young artist, fresh out of high school and trying to find their way in the world, especially as someone fresh out of college myself.
If you are fascinated by the art world, if you love thrillers about being conned or deceived, or if you’re just looking for an authentic story about a broken girl who makes mistakes (I check all three boxes), you will devour this book.