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.
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Sabine feels alone, in part because she is still dealing with the loss of her mother as well as the consequences of her mother's death, such as her homelessness and food insecurity. As such, she winds up being easy prey for the smooth-talking graduate student, who gets her what she wants most- a peek at Krell's secret, and very expensive, painting. Right and wrong are tangled in her mind, and as she seeks to piece apart what she is doing, she also tentatively thinks about who she wants in her life.
What I loved: This book sparks some excellent discourse about homelessness, the way they are viewed, and the challenges of being a college student. There is also valuable discussion about privilege and how this can relate to morality (e.g. belief of what one would do in a situation that one could not feasibly be actually put into due to privilege). Sabine experiences a lot of growth throughout the book as well as a lot of self-actualization. College is a difficult age, where one is deciding who they want to be. There's a lot of value in this book in showing the challenges of this journey.
What left me wanting more: Although I found the book overall highly engaging, there are parts that feel like you feel like you are very slowly on a collision course- that is, the pace can be a bit slow at times, and you can definitely see what Sabine cannot about how these things will likely blow up in her face. This will work for some readers and not for others. I would say that it is definitely worth sticking with.
Final verdict: Overall, this is a great YA contemporary, coming-of-age read about defining yourself, moving forward, and learning from your mistakes. Sabine is a highly sympathetic character who certainly drives this engaging novel. Highly recommend for people looking for a deeper, heavier YA contemporary read.