Award-winning San Gabriel Valley author Catherine Linka’s compelling new contemporary fiction, “What I Want You to See,” is the first YA novel to put a face on homelessness among college students. The protagonist, Sabine Reyes, is determined to keep her past homelessness a secret during her freshman year at a competitive art institute. Flashbacks convey how she became homeless following her mother’s death the previous year. Sabine lived in her car until her art school scholarship and working two jobs got her off the street.
Linka’s interest in homelessness grew while driving around L.A. “I kept seeing encampments and lines of RVs parked along streets,” she says. “As I dug into news reports on homelessness, I found articles about college students. We tend to assume most college students live in dorms, but only a small percent live on campus.” Linka says high rents and limited funds force tens of thousands of students at two- and four-year schools to couch surf or sleep in cars while struggling to buy enough food. The school she attended, Georgetown University, started a food pantry two years ago. A recent survey of 57 community colleges by Hope Center for College found that more than half of college students struggle to keep a roof over their heads or get enough to eat.
“Lack of adequate food or sleep can affect mood, attention and the ability to learn. Lacking funds for transportation affects attendance,” says Linka. “Choosing between purchasing textbooks or food can affect a student’s grades and ability to graduate on time.”
Many L.A. teens, according to Linka, see encampments or people asking for handouts, but most have no idea that kids they know and like might be experiencing homelessness because these kids hide it so well. “My hope is, after reading Sabine’s story, teens will reconsider the stereotypes they hold about homelessness. I also hope Sabine can be a mirror for those who lack stable housing, but who want to be seen as regular people going through a rough patch.” Learn more at catherinelinka.com.