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Homelessness Isn't What You Think

The following conversation is part of our Beyond The Bio series, featuring conversations with authors we love. If you're a teen who'd like to interview an author, please click here to find out how we can connect you with your favorite YA authors. Today's guests include StoryTimeTeen creator James Tilton and Catherine Linka, whose new book What I Want You To See came out earlier this month.


James: Hey Catherine! Thanks so much for chatting with me today. Your newest book, What I Want You To See, just came out. Can you tell our readers what it's about?

Catherine: Sabine is a first year art student getting back on her feet after a horrible year. She lost her mom in the spring and after months of living in her car, she has new friends, and a scholarship that even covers a cozy rented room. But Sabine’s painting instructor, Collin Krell, critiques her work so viciously that she’s terrified she’ll lose her scholarship. Then she meets Adam, a grad student who wants to help and he seems to have the access and insights she needs to deal with Krell. But Sabine makes a not-so-great choice that pulls her into a situation that could demolish the new life she created.

James: Your book deals a lot with the difference between perception and reality. What do people see when they look at you and what do you want them to see?

Catherine: We all want people to see the best in us, but a lot of times people judge us by what they see on the surface. What I want people to see about me is that I’m someone who reaches out to others. That’s what gives my life meaning.

James: Sabine has experienced homelessness herself, and the muse for her Seen/Not Seen painting is a homeless woman named Julie. What do you wish people knew about those experiencing homelessness?

Catherine: Californians say that homelessness is the most important problem facing our state, but most don’t realize the problem is even worse than what they see around them. Most families who’ve lost their homes live doubled-up with friends or relatives, and college students couch-surf or sleep in their cars. The official count of those experiencing homelessness is too low by hundreds of thousands. We need more affordable housing!

Catherine Linka

James: Tell me about Krell, and whether or not you think he’s a good professor.

Catherine: Collin Krell is a great teacher for some students, but he’s not the best choice for others like Sabine. He pushes students to break boundaries and he can be harsh and insensitive. He’s complicated.

James: One of Krell’s former students committed suicide, and the shadow of that act lingers over the book. What would you tell teenagers who are struggling with depression themselves?

Catherine: I suffered from depression in my teens. Depression runs in families and my mom, brother, and son have all experienced it. If you are suffering, please ask a trusted adult for help—a parent, teacher, doctor, counselor, coach. If you sense you or someone you care about might hurt themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 for help. You are not alone.

James: Before Sabine’s mother passed away, she worked for Iona, super-rich famous woman in LA who stars in the reality TV show Platinum Mom. What reality TV stars inspired her character?

Catherine: All the “Housewives” with their narcissism and petty bickering inspired the character of Iona.

James: Tell us about the meaning behind this quote from your book: “Every painting is the painter, their inner life splayed across the canvas.”

Catherine: No matter how you create— whether you paint, write stories or songs, play an instrument, or act—your creation reflects who you are as a person. Your values, passions, frustrations—those things that make you you are visible in your work.

James: So what's next for you? Anything you can tell us about your next project?

Catherine: I don’t know what my next project will be yet, but I’m eager to try something I’ve never done before. A non-fiction book about endangered animal smuggling? A picture book? I’m ready for a challenge!


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