I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.What I Want You to See by Catherine Linka
on February 4, 2020
Format: ARC, Paperback
Winning a scholarship to California’s most prestigious art school seems like a fairy tale ending to Sabine Reye’s awful senior year. After losing both her mother and her home, Sabine longs for a place where she belongs.
But the cutthroat world of visual arts is nothing like what Sabine had imagined. Colin Krell, the renowned faculty member whom she had hoped would mentor her, seems to take merciless delight in tearing down her best work—and warns her that she’ll lose the merit-based award if she doesn’t improve.
Desperate and humiliated, Sabine doesn’t know where to turn. Then she meets Adam, a grad student who understands better than anyone the pressures of art school. He even helps Sabine get insight on Krell by showing her the modern master’s work in progress, a portrait that’s sold for a million dollars sight unseen.
Sabine is enthralled by the portrait; within those swirling, colorful layers of paint is the key to winning her inscrutable teacher’s approval. Krell did advise her to improve her craft by copying a painting she connects with . . . but what would he think of Sabine secretly painting her own version of his masterpiece? And what should she do when she accidentally becomes party to a crime so well -plotted that no one knows about it but her?
Complex and utterly original, What I Want You to See is a gripping tale of deception, attraction, and moral ambiguity.
I want to say first of all that I received this arc from The Fantastic Flying Book Club, and I am part of an amazing blog tour for it! You can find my blog stop, along with many others, over here on the tour page!
If I had a slogan, it would be “I don’t like YA romances.” That would be it. Kind of a shitty slogan, but there it is in all its glory. YA romances typically fall into the contemporary genre, so as much as I do enjoy a good contemporary I am hard-pressed to pull the trigger on a lot of them. But for whatever reason, I saw an offer for What I Want You to See in my email from the FFBC, and I couldn’t say no. Call it precognition, call it dumb luck, but just don’t call it average. This book blew me out of the damn water.
How I’d Describe This Book to a Friend
Sabine has had a pretty difficult life: she’s grown up financially poor, but never poor in spirit as she’s always had her mom right beside her, urging her on to achieve bigger and better things. It’s through her mother’s earnest love and her high school art teacher’s belief in her abilities that Sabine has managed to achieve what she thought was impossible: the coveted, full ride Zoich scholarship at CALINVA, a premiere art university in California. This is even more meaningful to Sabine because not too long ago, she lost her mother. Her mom’s employer – consider her a starring cast member on Real Housewives of SoCal – unceremoniously dumped her and her belongings outside, and Sabine has been living out of her car for a while now. A full ride art scholarship is her dream come true. A chance to really develop her skills, to show the world what she’s got.
But there’s a small problem – Sabine’s got to enthrall the faculty to retain her Zoich scholarship, and as a painter there is really only one faculty member that can keep her afloat – Krell. I know I definitely had my own personal Krell during my own undergraduate – haughty, nothing you do is good enough, you feel like they are singling you out in particular to make your life miserable. And without an impressive painting for Krell during their first year showcase, Sabine won’t be able to retain her scholarship. She works hard enough as it is – renting a small room from an older woman who has rented this room to Zoich scholarship students for what feels like a millennium, and working part-time at both a restaurant and a local art supply store – but now Sabine has to work even harder to figure out what makes Krell tick.
So when a handsome graduate student named Adam turns up in Sabine’s art store, her interest is piqued. Even moreso when he complements her on her art – he saw her while he was in the classroom fixing a bulb, he confesses – but he has keys to Krell’s studio, and therefore access to a piece of art so shrouded in mystery that not even its buyer has seen it yet. Krell told Sabine to copy artists, to draw inspiration from their canvases. So surely drawing inspiration from Krell himself will impress him … right?
Lines grow blurry as Sabine feels more and more guilty about her secret time in Krell’s studio – even moreso when she starts to develop feelings for Adam. Suddenly she has no time to do anything, and then a tragedy strikes the art world that causes a ripple effect which makes a wave threatening to crush Sabine, obliterate her. How on earth can she stay afloat?
The Bottom Line
I try not to read too many summaries, as a general rule. Including this one. So I thought I was picking up a pretty standard YA contemporary. What I got, however, was a YA contemporary that stretched the genre over into suspense territory, and really leaned back on the romance. Is there romance present in this story? Sure, of course. But it’s not a focal point – I’d be hard-pressed to even argue that it’s secondary: if anything, it’s really a tertiary afterthought. Romance is part of Sabine’s life, but her real love is art. And through her eyes, you’ll come to appreciate art, too.
Interspersed throughout the book are short chapters detailing sketches Sabine has made in the past – these help characters we never directly meet such as her mother, or Iona (her mother’s uptight, filthy rich boss) grow into lush, vibrant characters. Even the side characters we meet in Sabine’s life at CALINVA and beyond are fleshed out – there is nobody here who is extraneous, and everyone matters, including a lovely homeless woman named Julie who I am certain will break hearts and become a fan favorite, because I know she’s mine.
I don’t know a lot about art theory or history, but Linka draws you in in such a way that you’re off Googling and learning. I know more about art than I ever did coming into this, and I did it of my own volition, organically! Being with Sabine in CALINVA really brought back my undergraduate years, struggling and growing and watching her make some of the same mistakes I did. I can’t stress enough that this book is so much more than a YA contemporary – it’s about love all right, but the love of found family, of the beauty of art and the freedom of expression. The love between friends and the people who support you when you stumble. I adore Sabine and while this book does not receive a Big Red Bow Ending (thank god), I think she got exactly what she needed.
I am so proud of her, and that’s how I know I love a book: this girl is part of my story now, too. And that’s art in and of itself, in a way.
“Think of Krell as an angry art god who requires human sacrifice.”