one to skip // one to watch review

Title: One to Watch
Author: Kate Stayman-London
Date Published: July 7, 2020
Pages: 432
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.

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who i was with her review // sad sapphics

Title: Who I Was With Her
Author: Nita Tyndall
Pages: 352
Date published: September 15, 2020

There are two things that Corinne Parker knows to be true: that she is in love with Maggie Bailey, the captain of the rival high school’s cross-country team and her secret girlfriend of a year, and that she isn’t ready for anyone to know she’s bisexual.

But then Maggie dies, and Corinne quickly learns that the only thing worse than losing Maggie is being left heartbroken over a relationship no one knows existed. And to make things even more complicated, the only person she can turn to is Elissa — Maggie’s ex and the single person who understands how Corinne is feeling.

As Corinne struggles to make sense of her grief and what she truly wants out of life, she begins to have feelings for the last person she should fall for. But to move forward after losing Maggie, Corinne will have to learn to be honest with the people in her life…starting with herself.

I ended up rating this book 3 stars on GR immediately after reading, but the more I think about this book, the more annoyed I get about it, so that rating may change. I didn’t know much about this book going into it so I didn’t really have any expectations about what story to expect, but it still felt like a huge letdown because the book introduced so many complex issues but never managed to flesh any of them out fully. This book deals with a lot, including a first time sapphic relationship, coming out, alcoholism, grief, college, strained family relationships, and more, but none of these reached their full potential for me.

Let’s start with the coming out issue, because that’s the biggest problem I had with this story. Maggie is Corrine’s first girlfriend, and throughout the book she struggles to come to terms with her bisexuality first within herself and then continues to be terrified to come out because of what people will think of her. The book continually mentions Corrine’s terror at the thought of people finding out about her and Maggie, but never really delves into why she was so scared. Whenever pressed by other characters, she simply says “I don’t know” or trails off or changes the subject. We are told that the community she lives in is small and Southern, but personally I didn’t get a real sense of terror that wasn’t just manufactured for the sake of this plotline.

I was also really annoyed by the storyline that emerged about Maggie having pressured Corrine to come out. This made no sense to me because Maggie didn’t seem to be out to many people either, including her parents, so I was confused as to why she was pressuring Corrine to do something she knew she wasn’t ready for when she hadn’t even told everyone in her life. The timeline also made it feel off, because Corrine takes a while to realize she’s bisexual, and it felt weirdly paced to have Maggie start pressuring her to come out to everyone right after. I know the author is queer so I feel really bad saying this, but this felt unnatural to the story and I think it would’ve made more sense for Maggie to be supportive, especially because this part isn’t revealed until about 50% of the way through. That part of the plot felt like something a straight editor wanted put in to make it more understandable to straight people about why Corrine wasn’t out. Not every queer story needs to be about coming out, especially when it’s coming from pressure from other people.

I honestly did not really see the chemistry between Maggie and Corrine either. They’re both runners, but Corrine makes it clear all along that she’s not nearly as passionate about running as Maggie and is basically continuing to reassure her father and keep Maggie’s memory alive. The title of the book may be called WHO I WAS WITH HER, but I’m not really sure who Corrine was with Maggie that was so different from her before or after, because she continued pursuing something she had no passion for or interest in. She was still unsure of herself and very scared of other people’s opinions and unsure of what she wanted to do.

That uncertainty was also the only memorable or notable thing about Maggie’s personality or character, in my opinion. The whole book talks about how she doesn’t know if she wants to run in college, she doesn’t know what she wants to do other than possibly chemistry or science, which is not explored or show, she doesn’t know, doesn’t know, doesn’t know. I get that the message of the book is that it’s okay not to plan your whole life out and figure out what you want to do, but no other options other than going to college or staying are explored, and we don’t know Corrine outside of running, which she doesn’t even like. Corrine’s doubts and uncertainty might be realistic, but it was not interesting to read about and took away a lot of passion that the book had the potential for.

The family relationships were another thing I wanted more resolution and information on that were not truly resolved. Corrine’s mom is an alcoholic, which is delved into a little bit, but when the book ends, Corrine still feels that she needs to take care of her mother and be around for her and the conversation with her father about her mom’s alcoholism is very short and glossed over. Corrine’s relationship with both parents is strained throughout the whole story, and it ended up feeling like a loose end by the time the book ended. The whole ending felt very abrupt because there was not a lot of interaction shown with the characters to make it feel like each issue was resolved, and everything seemed to happen too quickly and neatly.

I do think this book was a very accurate, honest portrayal of grief. Corrine is complex in how she feels and deals with her grief, much more than other parts of her character. Having gone through grief over the death of a friend, I could really relate to some of the messier parts of Corrine’s grieving process, and liked how the author portrayed her struggle of centering her own grief over other people’s and how other people perceived her more selfish ways of dealing with her grief. The way the book was written also captured Corrine’s grief well, as it was perfectly melancholy with hints of lyricism and poeticness that worked well to express Corrine’s emotions.

All this said, I will admit I managed to read this book in a short night and morning. I did like that it had very short chapters, which made a story about such big issues and heavy emotions more manageable. I kept reading because there were a lot of aspects of Corrine’s experience with grief that I related to, and readers who have lost someone will likely feel similarly. It’s also good for anyone looking for affirming bi rep, despite the issues I had with the coming out storyline. This is one I would recommend to fans of Jandy Nelson and Nina LaCour for the writing style and subject matter.

Though I did not love this book, I do hope it finds its way into the hands of bi and sapphic readers who need it.

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