Thursday, July 16, 2020

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London: A Bitter Disappointment

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London
Published: July 7th, 2020
Publisher: Dial Press
Tropes: Reality TV
Heat level: 🔥🔥
My rating: 2.5 stars
# of pages: 432
Acquired this book: From the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for honest consideration
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Buy: Amazon Canada || Amazon US || Indigo 

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 had high hopes for One to Watch - a fat Instagram-famous fashionista going on a reality dating show to find love? Sign me up! I was expecting something cute, funny, empowering, romantic, and feel-good. What I actually got was slammed in the face with a book full of fatphobia, making One to Watch incredibly difficult to read and often downright depressing.

I love when I can relate to a character, whether it’s because they’re fat or deal with mental illness or they’re nerdy or love to travel or whatever. If I can connect to a character because of common life experiences or interests, it makes it that much easier to love a book. In the case of One to Watch, my connection to Bea stirred up a lot of painful emotions. See, like Bea, I’m fat. I’ve always been fat. I’ve been made fun of, I’ve been bullied, I’ve been ridiculed, I’ve been judged. And like Bea, I’ve worried that no one will ever see past my size and love me for me. After so many rejections, both big and small, it becomes impossible to fathom that anyone would ever find you desirable or love you or be in a relationship with you. I’ve felt invisible for so long that it’s become a shield, and I saw that in Bea - her suspicion and mistrust and defensiveness around people, especially guys.

While on the one hand it was nice to see myself in Bea and to see the struggles many fat people face talked about with brutal honesty (emphasis on the 'brutal'), it was also too much at times. Bea couldn’t seem to catch a break. For most of the book, it seemed like her fears about how she was perceived and would never find love were completely founded. People treated her like shit. They judged and ridiculed her. So much of the book was Bea being relentlessly humiliated by fatphobic assholes and questioning her self-worth. At times it felt overwhelming seeing all my own fears and insecurities play out right before my eyes. 

All of this isn’t to say I didn’t like Bea, because I did. I could see myself being friends with her and I’d definitely love to get some fashion tips from her! I appreciated how strong and smart and real she was. The reality TV aspect of the book was interesting; I used to be obsessed with The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, so I enjoyed reading about the fictionalized version of a show like that with all its ups and downs, the drama, and the dream dates. I didn’t connect to any of the guys, though, and didn’t think any of them were really right for Bea. With the premise of the book being a reality dating show, the guys’ motivations weren’t clear (were they there for fame? Did they want to use the show to advance their own careers? Did they want to get a spot on one of the franchise’s spin-off shows?) and we didn’t get to know any of them well enough to know whether they suited Bea long term. Her constant doubts about them didn’t help either because I found myself mistrustful of every single one of them, waiting for the moment when she would be humiliated yet again...which always, always happened.

Overall, this book was a miss for me. There were too few triumphs for Bea after so much pain, heartache, and humiliation. I was hoping for a book that would leave me feeling hopeful and happy, not depressed and disappointed. I would have loved to see Bea have more things work out in her favour, more circumstances where she was the winner instead of the loser. She was obviously a confident, self-assured woman, but we got to see very little of that because she was constantly put in crappy situations that often left her feeling like the butt of a bad joke.







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