Real love…as seen on TV
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.
One to Watch is exactly what you expect from the description; I don’t think anything happened that I wasn’t expecting, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. No surprise twists here, at least none that can’t be spotted from a mile away, but there’s an earnest undertone throughout that Stayman-London is taking this very seriously. Every moment, even every word, has been considered carefully, which lends an honesty and a genuine feeling of hope to the narrative.
Yes, every moment is about Bea’s weight. Every. Moment. You’re not allowed to forget it for even a second. Whether we’re talking about clothing choices, the activity they’re doing, the men she’s dating, the way others look at her, the way she looks at herself… it’s overwhelming at times and is the only thing dragging down the tone. I’ve read many romance novels with curvy protagonists, so I know it’s possible to write this story without making it all about her weight. Bea is allowed to have baggage and drama and emotional complexity that isn’t related to her size.
I did enjoy that the (genuine) relationships Bea formed with the men on this show weren’t perfect. They were allowed to make mistakes or get along better in some situations than in others. Someone being jealous or awkward didn’t immediately make them undateable, and mistakes were allowed without becoming dealbreakers. Bea changed her mind for both good and bad reasons, and her feelings fluctuated and didn’t always make sense. I guess what I’m trying to say (without spoilers) is that for a very unrealistic situation, it seemed plausible.
With spoilers, I’ll say that it was nice that Bea didn’t pick the ‘perfect’ relationship, and it was okay that she picked Asher even though he had a lot of red flags that would have normally made him the villain in a romance novel. Sam did everything exactly the way he was supposed to, went above and beyond expectations, and was entirely genuine in his feelings which he freely and willingly shared. He could be the prince that happily-ever-afters were based on. It was so refreshing that not only did Bea recognise it wasn’t what she was looking for, but they were able to part ways without anger. On that note, it was also nice that Luc didn’t turn out to be the dirtbag it was suggested he would be. Yeah, he’s polyamorous and should’ve been more upfront about the type of relationship he would want. And he should’ve allowed much more time between partners while being honest with both of those partners, but at least he was interested in Bea and not faking his interest. It was also refreshing that they were able to part ways without vitriol.
It was surprising how much queer representation there was in a book about a straight reality dating show. It didn’t feel forced or like representation for representation’s sake, just accepted and part of the narrative. Selfishly, I’m always looking for more bisexual rep, but I was very happy with what was seen in this pretty vanilla straight romance.
I’m honestly torn with this rating. I want to give it four stars – I mean, look at all the good things I’ve just written about! Usually, my reviews are overwhelmingly negative even when I like a book. But it’s hard to get past the extreme predictability and the inability for any moment to be about something other than Bea’s weight. 3.5 stars is an easy, enjoyable read, and that’s exactly what One to Watch is.