What I Want You to See


By Catherine Linka

Formats and Prices




$14.99 CAD



  1. Trade Paperback $10.99 $14.99 CAD
  2. ebook $8.99 $11.99 CAD
  3. Hardcover $18.99 $24.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 26, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

A college freshman is swept into shaky moral territory within the cut-throat world of visual arts in this razor-sharp novel.

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.


To Lauren, Judy, Ed, and Pete

People see what they want to see and what people want to see never has anything to do with the truth.

—Roberto Bolaño

Think of Krell as an angry art god who requires human sacrifice.

Our teaching assistant’s warning rings in my ears as I tear into the alley two blocks away from campus. It’s five of nine, and I’m cursing myself again for not buying a parking permit. I need to run like hell if I’m going to make it to class before Professor Krell arrives with his chai latte and scathing comments.

The spot behind the abandoned florist shop is empty, so I park the Honda and grab my portfolio case. Then I streak down the alley past the machine shop and out onto the sidewalk, the big black case banging my legs the whole way.

Of course the crosswalk light’s red, and a cop’s parked outside the homeless shelter across the street. I hammer the button on the light post. I can’t jaywalk, not with the cop sitting here. He let me off with a warning a couple days ago, but the fine is a hundred and ninety dollars I don’t have.

The light changes and I fly through the crosswalk. Don’t stop, don’t stop, I tell myself even though my skinny-heeled boots are ridiculous to run in. I can’t be late for Krell.

The art institute looms on the next block, four stories of gray cement and glass. I dash past the shelter and the scent of pancakes and warm syrup. I’m halfway down the block and picking up speed when the light turns red, which is good because by the time I get there, it should be green.

My luck’s holding out, because as I smack the walk button the light turns, and yes! I might actually beat Krell to class.

I power down the block past the corner of the CALINVA building and the words carved three feet high into its side: QUESTIONING. PROVOKING. AGITATING. I slam through the first set of glass doors and up the forty-foot-long ramp to the lobby.

Whoever the sadist was who designed the entry, I’m pretty sure the skateboarders are the only people at CALINVA who like it.

By the time I get to the top of the ramp and through the second set of glass doors into the huge cement lobby, I’m breathing hard, but I still have to get to the third floor. The elevator is notoriously slow, so I sprint for the steel stairs. I’m really moving now, but halfway up, my heel catches in one of the holes in the open weave.

Son of a…! I jerk my foot to get free, and a slip of leather peels off my heel like a piece of tomato skin.

But there are still people scurrying for class, so I charge up the last stairs and down the hall. And no no no. The door of Studio 322 is shut, which tells me that today, for the first time in weeks, Professor Krell’s on time for Painting Strategies 101.

I crack open the door. Krell’s holding court at the front of the room, where a painting is propped up on a big wooden easel. Bryian Ahring slouches against the wall nearby, gazing humbly at him.

Krell ponders the canvas, his face all angles and points from the widow’s peak in his receding hair to the slash of his brows, his sharp nose, and chin.

I duck down, hoping he’s too caught up in his critique of Bryian’s assignment to notice me winding through the forest of students and easels. It’s not easy, because the floor is littered with backpacks, portfolio cases, and plastic toolboxes, and the heels on these stupid boots are so damn skinny I can barely balance.

Finally, I slip onto my stool and set down my portfolio. My fingers refuse to lie still, so I take out a pencil and pocket-size sketch pad and with a few quick strokes capture the line of Krell’s stance and the tension in his shoulders as he contemplates Bryian’s painting. I glance at the canvas, wondering what Krell’s thinking.

Jagged green rivers striated like agate radiate from a blob that looks like a thin section of human cells. It looks a lot like a painting we saw a few weeks ago on our field trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art, and I wait for Krell to tear into Bryian.

“See how the composition radiates from the center. The viewer is lured in and then . . .” Krell’s hands explode outward. “Movement! Electricity! Note the provocative use of color and shape. This is exactly the kind of work I expect in this class.”

No, you’ve got to be kidding me. On my right, Taysha’s rolling her eyes. Okay, so I’m not the only one who thinks Bryian ripped off a Kerstin Brätsch.

What is it with Krell and Bryian Ahring? Ever since we arrived at the California Institute for the Visual Arts, Krell has showered Bryian with more praise than any of the other first-years.

Which would be a lot easier to take if Bryian wasn’t such a poser with his blue mirror glasses perched on top of his shaved head, and “humbleness” dripping off him.

I unzip my portfolio and slide my canvas onto my lap. I worked my ass off and it turned out even better than I hoped. This time Krell has to admit my work is good.

“I see Ms. Reyes has deigned to grace us with her presence.”

Everyone turns to look at me, and I squirm in my seat. “Sorry.” I don’t bother to offer an excuse or explanation, because if anyone ever tries, Krell silences them with a hand.

“Since you have my attention, Sabine, you may bring your assignment to the front.”

I hold my canvas at my side and thread through my classmates. I barely know them, but Taysha nods at me, and Kevin from Kansas gives me a look. You got this.

My stomach is a fish flapping on the floor.

I am true to myself. I am true to my vision.

I’ve worked on this painting for over a month, keeping in mind all the ways Krell’s faulted my composition, colors, or theme, and a couple of times all three. Since the first class of the semester, he’s made it clear my work’s not up to his standards. Safe, he’s called it. Timid.

I place the canvas on the easel, and I take a position by the wall. At the very back of the room the lights flicker, and I realize there’s a maintenance guy on a ladder fiddling with one of the fixtures and he’s been in the room the whole time.

“What is the title of your work?” Krell barks.

I snap back to attention and see the smirk on his face. “Appetite.”

My painting is a still life, a place setting for a fancy dinner party shot from above. Stargazer lilies artfully arranged. Three wineglasses, silver for four courses, and centered on a platinum-rimmed plate, a dead songbird beside a toasted slice of baguette.

“Is that a photograph?” someone whispers.

“Nope,” someone else answers.

I take a deep breath and steel myself. As the artist, I am not allowed to speak, and I’m definitely not allowed to defend what I’ve done. All I’m permitted to do is answer Krell’s questions.

He stalks back and forth in front of the easel, a finger tapping his thin lips. Then he pushes back his wrinkled linen jacket and poses, hands on his narrow hips. “The assignment was to be provocative! To get us to think, to respond to your art. And my response is: LAZY!”

Heat surges in my chest. Lazy? I worked for weeks to express the light, to capture the reflective surfaces, to convey the texture of the iridescent feathers, the arched flower petals, the dull look in the dead bird’s eye.

Krell jerks his head at the room. “Every. Single. Student in this room can re-create reality. It’s nothing more than simple drafting.”

My cheeks turn hot and I know they’re crimson. Cadmium red #3 if I had to call it.

Krell walks over to the front row and shoves his finger in Bernadette’s face. She jerks back, her blue eyes enormous. “What do you think of this painting?” he says.

“Ah, I don’t know,” she stammers.

He goes down the row. “You, Mr. Walker.”

Kevin glances at me, determined to help. “It’s intriguing,” he says.

“Why? Why is it intriguing?”

“Because a dead bird on an expensive plate is bizarre and unexpected. Like Edgar Allan Poe.”

Krell gives me a pitying smile. “Were you thinking about ‘The Raven,’ Ms. Reyes?”

“No.” My leg jiggles, and I hold my head up even higher, hoping it will keep me from sliding down the wall.

“Were you thinking about anything?”

I try to swallow. I can hear my artistic statement in my head, every single syllable, but the words are stuck to my tongue like gluey papier-mâché.

Appetite is about the powerful consuming what they want with no care for who or what they destroy. The ugly dead reality of a bird that was never meant to be eaten served up on the costliest china.

Krell pounces on my silence. “This painting lacks daring, insight, and soul.”

My eyes bore into the wall above everyone’s head while my legs turn liquid. I need to get out of here without losing it.

“You may resume your seat, Ms. Reyes.”

I lift my painting off the easel and lock my gaze on the floor, because one pity smile as I walk to my seat will send me crashing. I slide back onto my stool and wrap my long crocheted sweater across my body.

Krell starts in on the next critique and I don’t look up to see who it is. I dig my nails into my palm, hearing him crow that the abstract is “bold” and “risk-taking.”

I don’t get it. I thought CALINVA loved my work. You don’t give someone a full scholarship if you don’t think they’re amazing. So why is it that for the last six weeks, Krell has slammed every single piece I’ve shown him?

Angry tears pool in my eyes, but I blink them away, because I will not, absolutely will not cry in front of these people.

When the bell rings, I’m out the door first and flying for the exit. I’ve got an hour before Color & Theory, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend it fending off sympathetic classmates in the student lounge.

CALINVA is five blocks south of the trendy main drag of Old Town Pasadena, so I take off in the other direction. The last thing I want is to run into anyone from the institute or the art supply store where I work.

It’s heating up, so I tear off my sweater and stuff it into my messenger bag. Then I head for a taco truck parked a couple blocks away at a construction site.

I’m almost to the truck when “Hey, smile for me, sweetie!” Come-ons and kissing sounds rain down on me.

I swear if any of those guys get down from that roof and come over, I will slam them with my portfolio case. I pull out my wallet and check how much I’ve got, considering it’s got to last until Friday and this is only Monday.

I pay for a can of guava juice, then park myself on a low cement-block wall in front of a battered office building. I roll the icy can over my forehead while Krell’s insults burn in my ears. My work lacks daring, insight, and soul.

What am I going to do? I can’t avoid him for the next four years; he’s the head of the department.

Oh God, what if I lose my scholarship?

I flash back to Irina Gonzales in the student-aid office. “Do you understand that the Zoich is a merit scholarship, Sabine? That it can be revoked if your performance does not meet expectations?”

And what do I do, then? Go back to sleeping in my car, being the girl who scrubs toilets in an office building at midnight, who carries plates of ribs to half-drunk diners, and charges twenty bucks for a pet portrait at the dog park?

My chest starts to tighten, and my lungs feel like they’re shrinking. I spread my fingers over the surface of the juice can, telling myself to focus on the sensation of coolness. Be in the now. Look around you. What do you see?

I draw my eyes over the truck, taking in the crudely painted combo plates and faded menu on the side, the grease-blurred window, and the beefy arms of the man working the grill. A composition forms in my head with the window as the focal point, and I’m about to reach for my sketch pad when a woman saunters out from behind a building across the street.

Black pants and black tee, she stands out in the bright sunlight like a black line on a white page. A band of fake fur rings her light hair. She walks over to the light post on the corner and leans against it, clutching a handmade cardboard sign that reads GOD BLESS YOU! IM JULIE. I HAVE CANCER. PLEASE HELP.

She’s facing my way and I try not to stare, but I can’t take my eyes off her. Her tan cheeks are donut plump around her sunken mouth, and the only word that comes to mind when I look at her closed-lip smile is “beatific.”

There is something transcendent about this woman whose skinny pants are almost fashionable, and whose bare feet and hands are black with dirt. Grace and goodwill flow off her like vapor off dry ice.

I fumble with my sketch pad, knowing I can’t possibly capture what I’m seeing in pencil, and I put it away. I feel for my phone, then gather up my things and cross the street, sure Julie will walk away before I get there.

As I get within ten feet of her, I realize I’ve been so caught up in her smile I missed how she’s stroking a white rat perched on her shoulder.

My phone is right in my pocket, but I hesitate to take it out, because I hated the student at my high school who treated homeless people like props for his AP photography portfolio. Is it using Julie to want to draw her?

I wish I had an extra ten to give her, but I don’t. I unbuckle my messenger bag. “Do you like apricot bars?” I say, and hold up a small paper bag.

Her eyes crinkle even deeper. “Apricots? Yes, I love them.”

Even up close, I can’t quite tell how old she is. Forty? Sixty? I hand her the bag. “My landlady baked them. She’s a really good cook.” I pause, because I almost hate myself for asking, but, “Would it be okay if I take your picture?”

“Go ahead, dearie. I don’t mind. A person takes your picture, it means they see you.”

I step back and she tells me to be careful to get Sweetie, her rat, in the picture, so I do. I take five or six shots, and then, feeling awkward, pocket my phone and thank her.

“Have a blessed day,” she answers.

I walk away, thinking who am I to take her picture, that I of all people should know better than to do that.

CALINVA’s right up ahead, and the last thing I want to do is face everyone who witnessed my critique, but I tell myself: Suck it up and keep going. You’ve survived a lot worse than this.

And once you figure out what Krell wants, you can get him off your back.

When I get back to CALINVA, the first-years are milling in the hall outside Color & Theory. I hesitate on the edge of the group, because even though I know their faces and names, I haven’t really put myself out there to make friends.

After Mom’s accident last spring, I couldn’t be the artsy, snarky friend that Hayley and her other friends expected. One day, while they complained for the hundredth time about the unfairness of not being allowed to use their phones during school hours, it hit me that my reality wasn’t theirs, and if they knew the truth about me, they’d label it, but they’d never understand it. I drifted away, and never drifted back.

But as I look around this hall, I tell myself that these people could be my people; I just need to be sure who to trust.

Bernadette’s leaning into Bryian, tilting her head and giving him her full and undivided adoration. She paid me a lot of attention the first couple weeks of the semester, asking what arts-high and intensive art programs I attended (none), who I know in the LA art scene (no one), and is one of the faculty mentoring me (I wish). But I guess I haven’t lived up to my hype as the Zoich Scholarship winner, because now she’s lost interest. Fine.

Kevin from Kansas huddles by the wall outside class talking to Taysha. Today Taysha’s smoky-purple hair is wrapped in a cone of patterned cotton and she’s channeling Nefertiti, queen of the Nile, all cheekbones and attitude.

As I head over to them, Bernadette tries to give me a look of sympathy, but I pretend I don’t see. Kevin slides his beanie off his head and shakes out his hair so his soft brown curls sproing around his face. “Hey, Sabine,” he says, and swivels, opening up the space between him and Taysha so I can join them.

Kevin’s friendly to everyone, but I’d like to believe we’re actually starting to connect and he’s not just taking pity on the classmate who’s going under.

“Ten seconds left,” he tells Taysha, who’s drumming a finger on the strap of her slouchy bag.

She squints and says, “The Elusive Credence of the Peripatetic.”

I have no idea what I’ve walked into, but I watch Kevin consider her answer. “It’s good,” he says. “Unintelligible and therefore profound, but for it to be perfect, it needs one more bullshit noun at the very end.”

“Okay, give me a sec.” Taysha stares at the pleated concrete wall behind us like it holds the answer.

“You want to join in?” Kevin asks me.

“Depends. What are you doing?”

He glances up and down the hall before leaning in conspiratorially. His eyes are chestnut brown behind his clear, round frames. “We’re playing Name That Ahring. You have to come up with the name Bryian Ahring will give his next masterpiece. Here’s a hint: bullshit adjective, bullshit noun, the words ‘of the’ followed by bullshit adjective, bullshit noun.”

“Oh, oh, I’ve got it.” Taysha strikes a pose for the cameras. “The Elusive Credence of the Peripatetic Razor in Homage to Man Ray.”

Kevin nods at me and we clap like fiends. “Genius, pure genius,” I tell her.

“Yes, love the ‘homage,’” Kevin adds. “And the inspired allusion to French surrealism. You have elevated the art form of Name That Ahring.”

“Thank you. Thank you. I accept your accolades, knowing I deserve them.”

I catch myself smiling, because for this brief moment I’m one of the cool kids.

Doors open up and down the hall as people change classes, and all of us reach for our portfolios and paint boxes.

“I crave your boots,” Taysha says, pointing to my cinnamon-colored booties that now have a shriveled leather worm hanging off the heel. “Zanotti, right?”

Taysha’s concentration is fashion design, so I should have known she’d recognize them. Now she’ll get the wrong idea that I’m rich. “Yeah, they’re Zanotti, but I didn’t buy them new.”

“You found them at a resale shop?”

“Actually, I snagged them at the Beverly Hills Presby-terian Rummage Sale.” The lie comes out so smoothly, even I’m impressed.

“No, you didn’t! How much did you pay for them? Because if it was less than five hundred, then you basically stole them.”

Guilt prickles down my spine. I keep a smile on my face as we walk into Color & Theory, thinking that even though I never intended to steal Iona Taylor’s designer boots, by the time I realized I had, I swore I’d eat dog crap before I ever gave them back.

Mom is a coiled spring in purple workout gear outside the office at Beverly Hills High. With short quick strokes, I showed how her faded blond ponytail twitched and her feet could barely hold still, she was so eager to run back to the Taylors’ house.

I switched partway from a drawing pencil to Prismacolor cloud blue for her eyes, then fringed them with almost invisible lashes. Switched again to Prismacolor black grape for the blurry dragon-claw tattoo creeping out from under her collar, the last remnant of her old life.

Gazing at it now, I remember the feel of the pencil scratching across the paper’s rough weave. I chose the texture to suggest Mom’s skin was as flawed as her past.

No matter how many times I look at this sketch, I’m never ready for where it takes me. The memories of this day…the details spiral in my head.

Mom dropped the keys to the Honda in my hand. “Thank you for picking up Iona’s boots. I can’t see stilettos working on snow, but Iona says she needs them.”

The shoe repair was miles away and I wasn’t looking forward to fighting the traffic on Olympic. “Of course Iona Taylor would insist on her boots being professionally waterproofed. She can’t use spray-on crap like everyone else?”

The creases around Mom’s mouth deepened. “Sabine—”

“I don’t understand why you put up with her.” 

“First, it’s my job, and second, I do not have the luxury of disliking the person I work for and whose house we live in.” Her gaze held mine, but I refused to give in.

“She’s a total narcissist.”

Mom pursed her lips and slipped a strand of my hair behind my ear. “People are complicated, honey. If you could look past your feelings, you’d see another side of her.”

“You always make excuses for her. You should quit working for the Taylors after I graduate.”

“Enough. Right now I need to go back to the house and pack their bags before the limo comes at four.”

She drew me into a quick hug. “I know I’m asking a lot, making you stop at both the dry cleaner and the shoe repair when you’re trying to get to the gallery early.”

“Hayley’s coming at five and I need time to get changed in case I meet Collin Krell.”

Her eyes pinched, and I knew it was because I invited Hayley to the opening of Krell’s show, not her, but then she smoothed on a smile. “My girl’s going to study with Collin Krell.”

“Mom, don’t say that. I haven’t gotten in yet.”

She gave my arm one last squeeze then she sprinted down the cement steps. Her legs were pumping before she hit the street.

I close my eyes, wanting to hold on to this moment forever.

I’m still licking my wounds from Krell’s critique when I’m deep into my shift at Artsy. The after-school rush of moms and kids desperate for art supplies for school assignments died out at 5:30, so the store’s quiet except for the alternative rock playing in the background.

The display of Lascaux professional acrylics needs restocking, so I carry several cartons out from the back. I unlock the display case and, one by one, take the silver tubes of paint and slide them into the slots in the case like I’m hanging Christmas ornaments.

Dioxazine Violet Light. Cobalt Blue. Cerulean. Hansa Yellow. Their names are like music the way I hear them in my head and imagine the colors gliding across a canvas.

I’m extra careful not to dent the metal tubes or damage the paper labels. Each tube, even the smallest one, costs way more than what I’m paid to hang them up.


  • *"Clear-sighted and heartbreakingly true, this is a genuine portrait of a girl in quiet crisis learning to see things as they are."—Booklist (starred review)
  • "An engrossing novel about art, self-expression, and making amends."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "Through Sabine's first-person narrative, interspersed with "sketches" of her previous life, Linka crafts a unique story, both a twisty thriller and an indictment of education's high cost and the risks taken in pursuit of a dream."—Publishers Weekly
  • "Tense, smart, and engaging.... What I Want You to See is a stunning portrait of deception, artfully peeling back layers of secrets to reveal a meticulously crafted crime."—Elle Cosimano, award-winning author of Nearly Gone
  • "Linka delivers intrigue, betrayal, and a feast for art lovers."—Mary McCoy, author of Printz Honor Book I, Claudia
  • "A messy, heartbreaking and very real journey of learning to let others see who you truly are."—Carrie Arcos, author of National Book Award Finalist Out of Reach
  • "A stunning page-turner that will tear your heart and paste it back together."—Kim Purcell, author of This is Not a Love Letter and Trafficked

On Sale
Apr 26, 2022
Page Count
384 pages

Catherine Linka

About the Author

Catherine Linka is the author of A Girl Called Fearless, an Indie Next Pick and winner of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Award, and its sequel, A Girl Undone. She has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She invites you to visit her online at catherinelinka.com or on Twitter @cblinka.

Learn more about this author