Title: One to Watch
Author: Kate Stayman-London
Date Published: July 7, 2020
CW: fat shaming (some challenged), cheating
Bea Schumacher is a devastatingly stylish plus-size fashion blogger who has amazing friends, a devoted family, legions of Insta followers–and a massively broken heart. Like the rest of America, Bea indulges in her weekly obsession: the hit reality show Main Squeeze. The fantasy dates! The kiss-off rejections! The surprising amount of guys named Chad! But Bea is sick and tired of the lack of body diversity on the show. Since when is being a size zero a prerequisite for getting engaged on television?
Just when Bea has sworn off dating altogether, she gets an intriguing call: Main Squeeze wants her to be its next star, surrounded by men vying for her affections. Bea agrees, on one condition–under no circumstances will she actually fall in love. She’s in this to supercharge her career, subvert harmful anti-fat beauty standards, inspire women across America, and get a free hot air balloon ride. That’s it.
But when the cameras start rolling, Bea realizes things are more complicated than she anticipated. She’s in a whirlwind of sumptuous couture, Internet culture wars, sexy suitors, and an opportunity (or two, or five) to find messy, real-life love in the midst of a made-for-TV fairy tale. In this joyful, razor-sharp debut, Bea has to decide whether it might just be worth trusting these men–and herself–for a chance to live happily ever after.
I really wanted to like this book. It had all the makings of a Mel book, complete with body positivity and reality tv, which I am definitely a sucker for no matter how I try to watch other types of shows, and I was honestly really interested to see how this story played out.
I feel weird about rating this book because while it held my interest and I was entertained while reading, I also had MANY issues with it and it is objectively not a good book for a lot of reasons. I think my problems with this book stem from two issues, the formatting and the fact that it was almost TOO realistic.
I read this book expecting a fantasy. I thought the point of the book was to give a fat protagonist the fantasy romance that eludes fat people in real life reality shows and show a fat person being ridiculously happy and in love. Unfortunately, what I got was…not that. This book was too realistic to the point where everything was predictable because everything happened in the book the way it would in real life. This included extreme amounts of fatphobia, both in the scenes with Bea on the show and in the articles and online comments shown in the “between” sections. I was of course expecting some amounts of this, but there was so much that it was almost triggering for me and took away from what I think the story could have been.
I also grew annoyed with Bea’s responses to the fatphobia. She always had the “right” response and was able to deliver it despite probably being very upset by it, but it made her seem like a wall and not a real character. Her whole character was based around her supposed confidence, but outside of her confidence, I found her to be a relatively cold character. Her confident responses to people demeaning and belittling her on a show that was supposed to center around her happiness seemed manufactured and there just to prove a point to the reader.
I was also not a fan of the “romance” between Bea and Ray that kind of sets off her whole romantic journey. First of all, he’s engaged to be married, but has a relationship with her anyway, and at the time, Bea seems to see no problem with this because she thinks they’re meant to be together, which made me not like her that much at first. Pining after an engaged man and doing things she shouldn’t with an engaged man did not seem like a particularly attractive quality that should’ve been the first time we see her in a romantic relationship. The whole thing made me really uncomfortable and I feel like there weren’t consequences for Ray’s behavior.
Honestly, I didn’t feel like there was much actual “romance” in the book at all. Bea even goes into the show agreeing to it only if she can break up with the “winner” a few weeks after the show. I went into this book expecting romance, but Bea is so cold to the guys on the show for most of the book that it’s hard to root for her or for any of the romances in particular. I think the formatting of the book also made the romances suffer, because we saw the romances happen through the eyes of the viewer of the show she was on, so we didn’t get to hear a lot of her inner thoughts about the guys or feel much chemistry. Really, I didn’t feel she had chemistry with any of the men, and I wish she had gone into the show wanting romance instead of trying to kill it at every turn, because it made for a boring book with low stakes.
Obviously, I knew going into the book that it was centered around a reality show, but the way the book was written was too much like reading a script or long episode guide rather than a book. I kind of wonder if the author went into writing this book expecting it to be made into a show, because it had much more of a cinematic feel than literary feel. Writing the book this way made it harder to get to know the characters and made it almost exclusively plot driven. I also really didn’t need all the articles and online chatter about the show between episodes, because all of those things were written exactly how they would be in real life, which took away what I thought would be the fantasy element of the book and didn’t add to the story in any way.
To be honest, I simply did not need a whole book to prove that fat people deserve love too at the end of the day, which seemed to be the message of this book even though it didn’t even quite deliver on that. This book seemed to be written for skinny people who needed to have that proved to them in a realistic way (hence all the fat shaming and online vitriol), instead of a truly body positive, fantasy romance that I was expecting and hoping for as a fat reader. The fact that this was the message of the book did not sit right with me, because it didn’t feel to me that fat people were the audience for this book despite it being written by a fat person and featuring a fat character. I did not need this book to prove to me that I am human and deserving of love, and that made it a frustrating reading experience as well.
Basically, this book failed to deliver on characterization, romance, and its message. I would definitely warn fellow fat readers away from this book as the fat shaming is truly hard to read at times, and suffering through the author trying to prove that we’re worthy of love was challenging as well. I had high hopes for this book as a lover of reality tv, but unfortunately, this book just did not impress.