I learned about Kate Strayman-London's book, One to Watch, on one of my favorite podcasts, Girls Gotta Eat. Ashley Hesseltine, one of the two hosts, was raving about it and declaring it was the perfect beach read.
The story centers around Bea Schumacher (which will always make me think of the Schumakers in Dirty Dancing), a Los Angeles-based fashion blogger. Bea is plus-size and uses her internet fame to share her best fashion finds for women who also wear a size 14-16 and up.
One night, after a bit too much to drink, she goes off about the show Main Squeeze (inspired by The Bachelor franchise) and its lack of diversity in race, ethnicity and body type. Her blog post goes viral and results in the show's executive producer reaching out to her and asking her to be the next Main Squeeze.
What makes this book incredible is that the author is a super fan of The Bachelor and she's created this alternate universe where Main Squeeze mimics the real show with total accuracy. In One to Watch, ABC is ABS; the rose ceremony is called the kiss off ceremony, Reality Steve is Reality Stefan - the list goes on.
One element she included that had me chuckling was the number of contestants with the same first name. The Bachelor is known for attaching someone's first initial of their last name to differentiate them, and in this book, Bea's suitors include five guys named Ben.
On page 93, "Ben G., a Birkenstock-clad kindergarten teacher who brought his guitar and forced Bea to join him in his class's good-morning song (on. live. television.); Ben F., a personal trainer; Ben K., a personal fitness coach ('So, like a trainer?' Bea had asked, and apparently this was very much the wrong thing to say); Ben Q., a dental student; and finally, Ben Z., who at six-foot-six, was known by the group of 'Big Ben,' and whose occupation remained a mystery - there seemed to have been a collective decision that his height was information enough."
At the very end of the book, in the acknowledgements section, Stayman-London is thanking her editor, Emma Caruso, and writes, "If I aspire to be the literary Ashley I. (after all, this book was my first), then you are the Rhode Island Jared I've dreamed of my whole life. And the single-space editorial letters were our Paradise." Ha! So good.
The book gives you all the same feelings you have when watching The Bachelor - swooning over the romantic dates, blushing at first kisses, and wanting to hide behind a couch cushion when someone humiliates themselves. It was fun to get that experience from a book!
I will say, there were big chunks of the book that were hard to read. The author includes fictional press reviews about the show, many of which are from fans who are disgusted by Main Squeeze choosing a plus-size woman as the star of this season.
For example, on page 70, a fictional article reads, "Now, 'plus-size blogger' Bea Schumaker is going to be the next star of Main Squeeze. If you've never seen her, picture a barnyard animal that gave up on itself at birth and still thinks it can wear a crop top. And we, the television viewers, are supposed to believe that 25 men are going to compete to marry this thing. 'Reality' TV? Not even close. There's not a single man in America drunk enough to bang this woman, let alone propose to her - unless ABS found a chub-chasing cult from some backwoods swamp, there certainly aren't 25."
As a plus-size person myself, who has been on the receiving end of countless cruel comments throughout my life, these were painful to read, and there are quite a few of them throughout the book. So if this might be triggering for you, I wanted to flag it.
Overall, I did really enjoy this, especially while the premiere of Clare Crawley's season of The Bachelorette has been so delayed!