One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London
Published by Dial Press
Publication date: July 7, 2020
Genres: Book Clubs, Contemporary, Debut, Fiction, Social Issues
I’m going for a change of pace this week. At the beginning of the month my reading was mostly diverse and a bit dark so I needed to change it up a bit. Thankfully, One to Watch and the book I’ll review on Wednesday were both the kind of reading you pick up and don’t want to put down.
Bea Schumacher is a successful plus-size fashion blogger and fan of the reality show Main Squeeze (basically The Bachelor). After watching the season premiere, she drunkenly posts her anger about the stereotypical female contestants. It goes viral and the show’s new producer, Lauren, in an effort to be more “real”, approaches Bea to be the next contestant. Naturally, Bea has concerns. She already deals with vicious comments on her blog and social media about her weight, how no one would ever date her, and why doesn’t she just die already. Why sign up to be humiliated on national TV?
On a personal level, Bea has additional reasons for not wanting to do Main Squeeze. Namely, she’s given up on love after a long-time crush tells her she’s “all I’ve ever wanted” so she slept with him and then he dropped all contact. Lauren quickly disabuses her of the notion that she has to fall in love and end up engaged, but that she can just have fun. It will help her career, making her a national brand. With her heart carefully shielded Bea agrees to do the show.
In an effort to bring back viewers Main Squeeze has shut down all pre-show promotion and teasers. Viewers will meet Bea and she will meet her suitors for the first time live and episodes will air weekly to discourage online spoilers. Bea thinks she’s covered her bases to protect herself, but even while being savvy she is repeatedly blindsided by both the show and some of the suitors. It begins with the men, of whom only one is remotely plus-size. Bea specifically asked for diversity, but only gets hot guys in a variety of ethnicities. Then there are situations, the kind of things she would normally control or avoid, like wearing a bikini she hadn’t personally picked out, that crop up repeatedly.
All of this may sound as if author Kate Stayman-London is writing either a one-note hatefest against fat people or a manifesto against fat shaming, but what really happens is much more nuanced. One to Watch is broken into live chapters about Bea and what’s happening during filming, as well as twitter, text, interviews, and comments from viewers, fans and friends. It gives the novel a bright, real-time feel, as well as insight into a reality many women face because of their weight. Then there is the snarky humor that flows naturally through the book in the kind of way that makes me think Stayman-London would be a lot of fun to hang out with.
Sometimes feel-good reading is the only way to go. Even better is when you didn’t know you needed it. Which is all to say I loved One to Watch. I’d call it brain candy rather than chick-lit (or contemporary women, if you prefer) because every step of the way London defies expectations, bending the plot in unexpected ways, sharing a female perspective not often heard, and giving something as silly as reality TV depth.
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