One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London

One to Watch by debut author Kate Stayman-London is a brand-new fat positive novel about Bea. The opening chapter of One to Watch is wonderful. Typically, books about fat women start with a poor fat woman going on a date during which some guy or friend humiliates her, so she writes a revenge post on a blog and slowly gains a fat-positive following. That’s where she gets her confidence. In Bea’s case, it’s during her study abroad in Paris at a street market where she finds her confidence. A French woman selling luxurious capes convinces Bea she has the perfect find for this shy American. But at 200 Euros Bea can’t afford the cape. In this moment, the seller sees a fat young woman who needs a reason to stand out and shine, so she gifts Bea the cape with the promise that Bea will tell everyone where she got it. What a lovely start to the book, something different and positive, and a nice interaction between two women.

Cut to years later and Bea is a successful fashion blogger who makes a living in L.A. with advertising and endorsements on her blog. She even has an agent. One night, her friend Ray, the man she’s loved/been friends with for a decade, says he’s coming back to L.A. for an event asks Bea if he can crash at her place. His fiancee won’t mind since Ray and Bea are friends. They end up sleeping together, but Ray leaves before Bea wakes and won’t respond to her for months. The author does a convincing job with this relationship; it’s founded in friendship and common interests, and it makes sense that Ray and Bea would be into each other. Yet, it’s obvious he doesn’t want to date a fat woman, even if he’s in love with her. The betrayal Bea feels doesn’t stem from a typical romance, but a relationship developed over ten years. She sounds pathetic for loving him and doesn’t get the benefit of saying “ex-boyfriend,” but she’s still left with deep, realistic (and unfortunately relatable) heartbreak. Stayman-London looks at the harsh side of romance experienced by fat people, the hidden side that is no less emotional. It’s wonderfully done.

It’s been months but Bea is deeply depressed, so she indulges in some classic comfort TV: Main Squeeze (basically, The Bachelor or The Bachelorette). On the final episode, the main squeeze chooses one person and gets engaged. But why is everyone on that show Hollywood hot? Bea rails against the Main Squeeze on social media, which garners enough attention that the show’s producer asks Bea personally to be the next star of Main Squeeze. Is America ready for a fat bachelorette? Will twenty-five strange men vie for her affection, or humiliate her on national TV? Bea is thirty and has never said “I love you” to anyone in a romantic fashion. She’s not inexperienced in sex, heartbreak, or dating but she’s had to navigate relationships in a fat body in cruel, appearance-driven America. Will Bea play along for ratings and refuse to make herself vulnerable to love, though she would become an example to millions of fat women, or will she actually fall in love?

The first show taping of Main Squeeze is rough for Bea. The twenty-five men have not been informed that Bea is fat. She’s asked for a diverse group of bachelors who match her interests. While they are different ethnicities and races, all but one is model-fit. Bea thinks the one fat man is a joke, as if of course she has to end up with him, because why would a ripped guy date a fat woman? The introduction to the bachelors is awkward, partially scripted, and a total disappointment for Bea. But she has to make it work; she signed a contract.

Once Bea starts filming dates for Main Squeeze, she has to teach the producer what it means to love and date in a fat body. Thankfully, the crew hired Alison, a fat wardrobe manager, and she dresses Bea in stunning, comfortable outfits. But otherwise, Bea has to remind the crew why her second show on a yacht in a bikini feels more like a jab than a date: “If you want the audience to buy what we’re selling, you have to stop assuming that I’m going to experience these dates the way you would. I don’t live in your body.” Fat women, of course, wear bikinis, but knowing she is being watched by millions of judgmental people and being the first-ever fat bachelorette puts her in a sensitive situation. Stayman-London earlier had noted that when Bea is invited to cafes or clubs, the seating often excludes her due to her size. I adored the attention to the way Bea navigates a physical space and applaud the author for not letting us forget what her heroine looks like and how people react to her.

I don’t watch these dating kinds of shows anymore (I used to watch Rock of Love (why?!?!?!?!?)) but I understand how people get wrapped up in them and how the emotions on the show may be genuine. It’s insane to think there is one person for us, and if there are several people who care about us, whom do we pick? For Bea, it’s got to be the person who fits her future. Because she’s attracted to a few contestants who genuinely seem to like her, each date feels like she’s with the “right person.” But the way Stayman-London makes us think beyond love and focus on reality was a cool bi-product of One to Watch. If Bea likes Wyatt, is she willing to live on a farm? If she falls for Sam, is she willing to date a guy with no job who still lives with his wealthy family? Does the highly erotic French chef want a whole storybook romance, or just one sultry chapter? The author both destroys the notion that there’s one person for us and establishes that there may be one most-realistic person for us.

It’s 2020, and what would a book be if it didn’t capture the way Americans live? We Tweet, text, email, blog — a whole array of media that Stayman-London captures. While some people find the inclusion of various social platforms trendy in fiction, I say if the author does it right, she’s matched the form with the content and the time period. For instance, a fan group who watches Main Squeeze every season and creates brackets to guess who’s going to be chosen has a delightful text thread that they use while watching the show, sharing their emotions and predictions for who gets chosen. Here’s an example:

Beth.Malone: He’s the hot French chef we need in these dark times and I stand by him

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London is a delightful, deserving novel that has the wit I would expect from a writer whose background is screenwriter and political strategist. I can only hope she chooses to write more novels because I’m buying what she’s selling.

40 comments

  1. This is the first review that I’ve read about One to Watch that makes me extremely excited to read it. Wow, I need to get my hands on this book ASAP. That quote on the yacht… 🙌🏼

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  2. I don’t watch any tv so of course I am no judge but “reality” shows leave me speechless because I could not imagine doing anything for an audience let alone conducting a romance. I understand how Bea gets to be the ‘bachelorette’ but does she really want to end up with the sort of attention-seeking guy who would go on these shows? Would you?
    Still, I enjoy your quest to see fat women properly represented in fiction and your analyses are always give me something new to think about.

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    • I would be so nervous that someone like Bea would get on that show and be eviscerated by both the “dates” and viewers. It was just be majorly awkward. It all looks so performative, and I have since learned that most of it IS, that my awkward alarms go off and make me run for the hills. The text surrounding the show itself, which was internet news stories, Tweets, and fans chatting with each other, made the experience immersive in a cool way, though!

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  3. This sounds excellent! Sounds like this novel packed with excellent social commentary, but not at the expense of an interesting story – it’s always so impressive when authors can pull that off!! TBR-ing this one 🙂

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  4. These kinds of dating shows make me so uncomfortable – I’ve never watched The Bachelor or similar, but I did used to watch some sort of First Dates show when I was a teenager, and I remember how bad it made me feel at the time because all the women that the men liked were slim and conventionally gorgeous, and any woman who didn’t look like an actual model would be dismissed by the guys in post-date interviews as “just not the right chemistry”. Why on earth I kept watching it for so long is truly a mystery. Even though I’m not really a romance reader, I am glad that this book exists to expose some of the flaws of shows like that and hopefully have a more positive approach to them.

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    • There’s always some show that we get trapped in and can’t stop watching. You are not alone in this! LOL. Until you called this a romance novel, which it is, my brain had stupidly not made that connection. When I’m reading a book with a fat protagonist, I’m so focused on her depiction that I lose sense of some of the rest of it.

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  5. YES this sounds so good!! I was wary about it at first because I’ve never been into The Bachelor/Bachelorette or other such shows, but it sounds like this story is as much a criticism of those shows as an homage, which is a nice blend. And Bea just seems like such a fun character to read! With excellent commentary, besides. I definitely want to pick this one up now. Great review!

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    • And I love that the form and content match with 2020. I can’t stand how people call books with any kind of texting or email passages gimmicky. That’s how we communicate these days, and when writers skip out on how we communicate, I just see it as a gap. My favorite texting part was a group text of fans of the show, all women, and one man. The male character starts to get into it.

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      • I think it can feel gimmicky when adult writers try to use modern technology in books for younger audiences to prove they’re “staying with the times” rather than treating social media as the natural extension of modern life that it has become. I rarely have that issue with adult novels though, when technology and social media content is included in a realistic day-to-day life kind of way. That’s much better than having cell phones ignored in the text entirely. Multi-media formats in books can be a lot of fun when handled well!

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        • Oh, I super agree with you. Did I tell you about the PSA ads on my local radio that are trying to get parents to talk to kids about weed and drinking? And the teens say things like, “OMG, Toby!” It sounds sooooo bad. I’m actually a fan of younger adults, people in their early to mid-twenties, writing teens because they’re not far removed from those years.

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          • Oh my gosh, I’ve heard similar ads, they are so grating! They really should get an actual teen to give feedback in cases like that. And I agree, younger adults often seem to have the best luck with teen characters that feel natural. That’s really a shame for older writers who’ve tried to make a career writing YA and inevitably fall out of touch, but it’s truly an age bracket that requires near constant change, I think.

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            • Mercedes Lackey’s books lean toward YA, and I wonder if the only reason her writing still gets traction is because her readers are all grown up and want to see the series through to the end. I can’t imagine contemporary teens sitting through books about thin white people.

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              • That seems like a very likely speculation. I’d be curious whether her writing has gotten more adult as her work continues, in order to cater more toward that lingering audience? YA must be so hard to make a long-term commitment toward!

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                • I wonder if it’s the Harry Potter thing: growing with the audience. Getting new readers of a huge series is challenging, especially since YA is has such a great presence right now with books that can relate to a variety of readers.

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                  • Yes, I agree. I really can’t think of many YA series or even authors that I’ve been willing to read more than 3-4 books from before being ready to move on, even if I was enjoying them. They do need to change and grow pretty quickly to be successful, I think! There’s probably more pressure with YA to be releasing a new book every year as well, long waits for a young audience would never work well.

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  6. I’m not going to lie — this isn’t the book I expected from Kate Stayman-London. But I love it. This sounds awesome! It also sounds like Stayman-London identifies as a fat woman. I don’t want to assume, but with her attention to little details like not being able to fit into cafe chairs and how Bea calls out the crew for expecting her dates to follow their assumed and prescribed pattern, Stayman-London knows what it means to be fat in America. Or she’s one hell of a researcher. I commend her for this. It sounds like you think her depiction is realistic and appropriate, too?

    I need to ask: Does the French woman make it because of Bea? Please tell me she does. 🙂

    I’m adding this immediately to the “fun reads when my brain cannot take 2020 anymore” list.

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  7. Yayyy!!! This book sounds so entertaining and fun. I agree with your comment about social media in fiction, I think it makes sense to include it-how can you not? It’s so pervasive in today’s culture, it would be weird to leave it out…

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