Lee, Lyla. I’ll Be the One. Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 328p. ISBN: 9780062936929. $13.99. AT *****
Skye Shin has always dreamed about being a K-pop star, but has been told her whole life that fat girls shouldn’t dance, wear bright colors, or draw attention to themselves. However Skye is done listening and has decided to audition for a K-pop competition reality show. The winner will go to South Korea and be trained to become a real K-pop star. When she makes it onto the show, she’s caught up in a whirlwind of competition, where she’ll have to deal with fat-phobia and an unexpected romance.
Lyla Lee’s I’ll Be the One is an adorable, swoon-worthy, contemporary novel that deals with body image, fat-positivity, family, and identity. Skye is a fat, bisexual, Korean-American girl who is not going to apologize for taking up space. She is confident, but has to deal with body-shaming from competitors and judges, social media, and her mother. The relationship between Skye and her mother is complex, and her mother is often unintentionally fat-shaming her out of “concern.” Many readers will relate to this complicated mother-daughter relationship.
Skye finds an unexpected romantic interest in a fellow competitor, Henry, who is a well-known model and is social media famous. I loved that I’ll Be the One portrayed a fat protagonist having a happy, healthy, swoon-worthy romance where her size is not treated as a “problem.” The romance between these two characters was sweet and heart-warming.
Teens who love K-pop will absolutely adore this novel, but readers not familiar with the musical genre will still enjoy it. I’ll Be the One will also be a big hit with readers who enjoy rom-coms and competition tropes. In terms of diversity, many of the central characters (including Skye and Henry) are Korean-American; there are numerous other BIPOC characters. Skye and Henry are both bisexual, and there are several other LGBTQ+ characters. I’ll be recommending I’ll Be the One to fans of Maurene Goo and Julie Murphy, as well as readers who’ve enjoyed Lyla Lee’s middle grade books.
-Ari Nussbaum, Hayward Public Library