As a teacher, I have quick and easy access to the school library. I love that one of my work besties is the school librarian! She gives me the fast track to all the newest books in our library’s collection. Over the last few school years, my friend has worked super hard to bring more diversity and representation to the library. These books really challenge our student’s ideas of diversity in all its forms… and I am here for it!
I really enjoy picking up the body positive books in the library to read and review. This week, I read the YA book, I’ll Be The One by Lyla Lee. The book follows the story of Skye Shin, a Korean-American teenager with dreams of becoming the next K-pop star. Skye is bold, bubbly, and a talented singer and dancer. However, she is not the typically thin, pop princess. Skye has curves and has been told her whole life, especially by her mother, that her size is a detriment to her dreams. Determined to prove everyone wrong, Skye auditions and makes it into a K-pop reality TV competition. There she sets out to show the world that size has nothing to do with a person’s worth or talent.
Let’s just start off by saying, the cover of this book is adorable. It features a beautiful girl, dancing to her own beat. The pastel rainbows and iridescent lettering make it even more inviting. It really does have the effervescent feel of a girl on a mission to prove she is amazing.
I really, really wanted to love this story. It had so many promising qualities… body positivity, queer representation, and an immigrant story. In the end though, the book just falls flat. With a focus on so many different characters connected to Skye’s story, everyone just feels a bit one-dimensional, especially her parents. The dialogue is very simple and at times reads like it was written by a middle school student themselves. And the events of the story just feel too neatly tied up and cliche.
Yes, I realize that this is YA fiction. If you are looking for a happy ending where a girl easily slays her doubts and bullies and all her wildest dreams come true pretty simply, well then this book is for you. It is sweet and happy, with just a teeny tiny bit of drama… like a Hallmark movie. However, if you want a truly believable story of triumph over body-shaming, you will be left wanting. (Go back and read Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy)
My biggest problem with the book was how over-simplified the story of body-positivity and fat shaming was shared. Skye has been told over and over by her mother that she is less-than because of her size. She is bullied by the hosts of the show on national TV for her figure. She is trolled by thousands of people on social media. Yet, through all of this, Skye remains true to herself and, with the exception of a couple of brief difficult conversations, stays on brand as a body-positive giant. She is easily able to brush off the words of others and the voices in her head and keep on.
Please keep in mind, I do not know anything about the author or her background. I just feel like the book sounds rather tone-deaf, written by a person who doesn’t really understand the struggle of body-love in a world that tells you that you are unworthy. The shame that goes with being a person of size goes very deep, especially when that message is continually reinforced by your family. The fact that Skye is able to shut out that noise so effortlessly is quite unrealistic, especially for a character that is a teenager.
This book is written to represent several marginalized groups of people. In the end, it doesn’t really do much to advance positivity for any of them. It’s a quick and easy fairy tale to consume… it just really left me wanting something more.