When One To Watch (*) started receiving so many rave reviews, a part of me wondered if people were celebrating the book only because it featured a plus size woman as the central character – which would surely be a departure for romance novels – or if there was enough merit in the story by itself!
So when I dove into the book last weekend, I went in half-convinced that this was going to be yet another over-hyped novel that I just won’t be able to get with. By the time I wrapped up the book some six hours later, I was very, very glad that my misgivings didn’t come true. I thoroughly enjoyed this cracker of a debut novel, and was kinda sad to leave Bea’s world once the book ended.
Bea Schumacher is a successful plus size blogger and she seems to be living a coveted life, what with her jet-setting schedule, friends & family who support her, and a large social media fan base who seem to adore her. Except that she’s suffering on the inside, because she’s had her heart broken by someone she’s loved for nearly a decade.
When the fall season of Main Squeeze (a very The Bachelor-esque show) airs, fueled by one drink too many, she posts a massive take-down of the show on her super popular blog, mainly highlighting the lack of diversity on the show. Her post goes viral, and the next thing she knows, she’s getting a call from the producers of the Main Squeeze, asking her to be THE Main Squeeze for the show’s Spring season!
After some deliberation, she agrees, but she’s largely convinced that she’s not going to find real love on a reality show. The book then follows her journey over the course of the filming of the show, and she’s forced to get real and vulnerable and make decisions about who she chooses to let in, and what that means for her future.
One To Watch is a super bingeable read for sure. I was sucked into the world of Bea Schumacher from pretty much the first page. A lot of times the prologues to novels like these don’t really amount to much, but I honestly loved how the book started off, giving us just a little bit of insight into how Bea, the super popular plus size blogger came to be.
Bea: She is an easy character to root for. She’s not perfect, but she’s real, smart, funny and unapologetic. She owns her body size, but clearly it’s been a journey for her to get to that mental place. Once on the show, she’s forced to confront her insecurities all over again, and she faces it bravely, though there are some seriously tough moments that she has to deal with repeatedly.
Her apprehension about the motives of the men, her inability to really trust them, her hesitation to really let herself go – it’s all so relatable. She goes on the show largely for the sake of opportunities that would lie ahead, and while romance does brew on the sets, ultimately, it’s a story of her journey as she finds herself, and I mean that in the most non-corniest way possible!
Reality TV, behind the scenes: The BTS look at the running of the show was fun to read. I mean, I really don’t care much for reality TV (I’ve never watched a single episode of The Bachelor or similar premised shows) but damn! that seems like a brutal shooting format. It sure can’t be easy to let yourself be truly real when everything that you say and do would be telecast for all the world to see.
The actual show: Massive points to the author (and I guess the editors as well) for writing about the show and the filming in a manner that it felt like you were actually on the set. Like it was actually playing out on television, in front of your eyes, right at that very moment.
There are obviously some cringe-worthy moments on the show, and I really, really felt for Bea in those instances. She’s a plus size woman with a large social media following, so she’s used to enough hate comments, but even that does not prepare her for the horrible behaviour of some of the men on the show! Who are these people? Don’t they know the first thing about being decent human beings? Sadly, their behaviour on the show/book is not too far a stretch from what actually happens in real life.
Female friendships FTW: I really enjoyed the depiction of her friendship with her best friend, Marin, who seemed like a great friend, btw – caring, protective and not afraid to dish out some tough love when needed. I thought the development of Bea’s friendship with Alison, her stylist on the show, was also lovingly portrayed.
The asides: The book is also very now, with all the Slack conversations, podcast transcripts, and the social media commentary. I actually loved, loved, loved the Slack conversation with the betting pool on who would Bea finally pick. Kate Stayman-London is so on point with these conversations – they seem absolutely real, and it could very well be you and your group of friends chatting up this exact kind of storm!
The romance: Since the whole premise of the book is that there are multiple suitors vying for Bea’s attention on the show, there’s not one, but multiple threads of romance going on.
Like I mentioned before, some of the men on the show were total prize-winning jerks, but I really did like some of the characters that Bea bonded with. I was totally on board with Bea’s choice though. I won’t say it was a total surprise, though there was a moment there when the book could have totally veered into the “no fucking way” lane, but I am glad that it did not!
But frankly, the book does not give you one swoon-worthy romance to ship for. I don’t think that’s the the core of the book anyway. Yes, Bea is looking for love even when she says she’s not, but to me, this book is more than the love story. Before it’s a romance novel, it’s a novel about a woman who learns to face her insecurities, her fears and how she blooms and thrives during the process and in the after!
Overall: One To Watch is raw, insightful and sensitively written. I adored Bea, and I loved that her character – flaws and all – was put across with so much fine detailing. And speaking of detailing, Kate Stayman-London has a super fine eye for details (like the moment when Bea’s stylist uses the pretext of fixing her hair to lend her some much needed moral support towards the end of the book – loved that!) and she manages to bring reality TV come alive even on the pages of a book.
I would rate this book 4/5 because despite being a cute and breezy read, there is a lot of depth in the telling, and it tackles difficult themes – fat shaming, fat-phobia, non-conforming characters – without coming across as preachy or excessive.
SOME MORE THOUGHTS:
- Bea’s family was adorable. That party was a hoot. Those text messages between her brothers were hilarious!
- I loved reading Bea’s parents version of the incident described in the prologue. It made for a really sweet moment.
- Was that tiny bit of drama with Lauren towards the end of the show really necessary?
- When is this book being made into a movie, or a show? Is Reese Witherspoon on it yet?
- I loved the book’s treatment of all the non-conforming characters. They did not feel like just token mentions, but there was real substance in those characters and their stories.
- A minor quibble, but for a book that was otherwise very sensitive and nuanced about its characters, I thought the Frenchman, Luc, was depicted in a largely stereotypical manner.
- Ray was such an asshole.
Have you read One To Watch yet? Who was your favourite from among the men? What did you love most about the show… er, book? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you.
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