Hi everyone! I hope you’ve all been having a nice relaxing weekend! Recently I fell back down into a Kpop hole and also started playing Animal Crossing New Horizons, hence the lack of reading and posting on any social media! I had planned out some posts for the last few days but I never got round to actually writing them (oops!), so you’re in store for a bombardment of posts over the next few days in order to fit them all in before the New Year! But first, a review for a book I’ve had my eye on for the longest time – I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee!
Title: I’ll Be the One
Author: Lyla Lee
Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, Young Adult
Synopsis: Skye Shin has heard it all. Fat girls shouldn’t dance. Wear bright colors. Shouldn’t call attention to themselves. But Skye dreams of joining the glittering world of K-Pop, and to do that, she’s about to break all the rules that society, the media, and even her own mother, have set for girls like her.
She’ll challenge thousands of other performers in an internationally televised competition looking for the next K-pop star, and she’ll do it better than anyone else.
When Skye nails her audition, she’s immediately swept into a whirlwind of countless practices, shocking performances, and the drama that comes with reality TV. What she doesn’t count on are the highly fat-phobic beauty standards of the Korean pop entertainment industry, her sudden media fame and scrutiny, or the sparks that soon fly with her fellow competitor, Henry Cho.
But Skye has her sights on becoming the world’s first plus-sized K-pop star, and that means winning the competition—without losing herself.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve fallen back down a Kpop hole – my first Kpop song was SNSD’s I Got A Boy, which fourteen year old me immediately fell in love with and proceeded to buy on iTunes and learn the whole choreography (without any dance practices, I may add!), and I’ve been a real Kpop fan ever since 2016. Over the past year I kinda fell out of love with the genre for a while after not really enjoying a lot of this year’s comebacks, and straying a bit more into Cpop (if y’all don’t stan WayV right this second…). But then came NCT 2020 (aka the first boy group I really got into after EXO and Shinee/the loves of my life), and I found myself right back in the middle of a Kpop bubble – and my reading definitely suffered for it! After days of just listening to the new album and almost fruitlessly trying to learn Kpop dances, I came across Isabel Jones‘ TikTok account, who is also the model on the front of the book cover. And then it hit me – let’s kill two birds with one stone and read a book about Kpop!
I’ll Be the One follows Skye Shin, who has decided to compete in America’s first ever Kpop reality show contest to ultimately become the first ever fat Kpop idol, despite her mum practically begging her not to. However, on the first day of the competition, Skye comes face-to-face with her competition, the famous model Henry Cho, as well as the fatphobic world of the Kpop industry. I’ve been a fan of Korean reality shows for a wee while – I love I.O.I, Stray Kids, Twice and Fromis_9, and I got really into Produce48 when it was being broadcast and IZ*ONE, too – so this was a really fun concept for me! Although I wish that the actual TV broadcasts of the show played more of a part in the plot, I did find my heart racing when things started going topsy-turvy and getting annoyed alongside Skye when the judges or other competitors said something fatphobic, and I think that really says something for Lyla Lee’s writing! I also really enjoyed all the little mentions of different Kpop groups and cultural topics like the adorable sheep head towel, which I immediately proceeded to try out myself!
The main characters were all extremely likeable – Skye is a proudly fat, bisexual, Korean-American girl who is so confident and comfortable in herself, but is also a total softy! She quickly makes friends with other girls in the competition, and I love that she immediately went to make friends with them, rather than acting standoffish, as they were her competition! Tiffany and Lana, two of her competitors who become quick friends with Skye, are lesbians and are dating in the book and it was so lovely to see! Although they definitely faced some hardships, I think it was really great to see several queer Asian, specifically Korean, characters. It was also very easy to fall for Henry Cho, Skye’s love interest. He may be an extremely famous model and have a ridiculous set of abs, but he’s so kind and considerate and I really just wanted to bundle him up in a giant blanket with a tonne of soft toys and some hot chocolate! Even the smaller characters had really distinct personalities that, alongside Skye, I either loved (her dad and her best friends from school), or hated (Bora and her mum), and I think the characters were one of the real highlights of the book!
As I mentioned, there is queer rep in the book, and I think it was so, so great! Not only are Tiffany and Lana lesbians, but both Skye and Henry are bisexual, and it is explicitly said so in the book (although the word lesbian was never explicitly used, I’m nonetheless so ecstatic for the great bi rep!). Moreover, the fat rep was some of the best fat representation that I have ever read! As a fat person, this is the kind of rep that I wish I had had growing up, as I feel that I may have come to love my body much quicker if I’d had it in my life a few years ago. That being said, I was so shocked to find out that it wasn’t own voices fat rep – not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, just the fact that it was so good and written by someone who’s not fat caught me so off guard, after having read so many casually fatphobic books in the past! There is also some discussion on cultural appropriation and fetishization of Korea and Korean people, which I think is an increasingly important topic, and I was very pleasantly surprised to see it mentioned!
The one thing that slightly irked me about the book, however, was something that I think might have been to do with the writing style. A lot of the book is to do with Kpop fan culture, particularly on social media and, although I don’t really partake in Kpop stan Twitter, I do see the occasional Tweet, and I’m well aware of the language used. However, this book suffered from the writing feeling too much like an adult who is a bit too far removed from the topic, trying to write like a teenager, and it felt awkward. So much of the social media interactions and comments didn’t feel genuine and used almost outdated terms, which I think negatively affected my reading experience.
Overall, however, I had so much fun reading this book, and it definitely put me back in the reading mood! I was so excited to see that there may be an adaptation in the future, and I can only hope that the fat representation is a lot better in it than in other upcoming adaptations (*cough* The Grisha series *cough*), but nonetheless, I highly recommend this for Kpop fans, and non-Kpop fans alike!