I'll Be The One by Lyla Lee
Overview: Skye loves K-Pop, singing, and dancing. She's studied for countless hours and has gotten really, really good. When the first LA based K-Pop competition starts holding auditions, Skye knows it's her time to shine. While her dad and her friends are supportive, her mom hates the idea. She doesn't believe fat girls can dance. This only pushes Skye more as she's determined to prove to her mom and to all the fat-phobic haters that she can do whatever she wants and be proud of it. Even though the competition isn't an easy road, it's full of fun new friends, self discovery, glitzy performances, and a possible love interest. Overall: 5
Characters: 5 Skye is a character that's easy to like. She radiates light and determination without ever crossing into annoying territory. She has a clear view of what she wants, and she's not afraid to work for it. Despite years and years of hurtful, self esteem wrecking comments from her mom about her weight, she's managed to come to a good place where she can feel confident. She's also navigating her sexuality. Even though she knows that her mom will never accept the fact that she's bi, knowing it for herself is empowering. The competition gives her a chance to gain a broader perspective and to find friends that she can relate to more than those at her Orange County high school.
Tiffany and Lana are the first two people she meets at the competition and are both great additions to the story. They're kind and supportive, and they understand what it's like to not be accepted by their families. Skye is originally struck by the fact that they're girlfriends and are out but still cautious. Skye had never gotten to see two girls hold hands or be in love like they are, and she finds it affirming. They're also some of her first close friends who are also Korean. I don't think Skye realized how much she loves having friends who just get it until she found them. They make a great friendship trio.
Then there's Henry Cho who is either eye roll or scream worthy depending on who you are. He's famous for coming from a rich family in Korea and for his newfound modeling career. While Skye assumes he must be stuck up and entitled since he looks perfect and is fawned over constantly, over the course of the competition, she gets to see his human side. Just because he has the looks and the money doesn't mean he lacks depth or hasn't experienced trauma. Henry is also bi, which Skye doesn't learn until late in the book, but it's a great moment of connection between them.
Parents also play a major roll in the book. Skye's parents in particular appear as two polar opposites on the spectrum. Her dad is unconditionally loving and just wants Skye to be happy. Her mom comes from a different place and prizes weight over almost everything. Her constant comments and refusal to be proud of Skye's dancing cause major rifts between them, and Skye is getting less concerned with fixing them. The book does a great job of showing parental impact and how lots of tiny comments can pile into a complete disaster. Lee also delves into the idea of what's okay or excusable from a parent when they're being informed by their own less than stellar upbringing. Working through these issues is a major crux of the book.
Plot: 5 The book is fast paced which is helped by the competition that frames the plot. We mostly see Skye at rehearsal or competitions. Sometimes there are cute scenes doing an activity or getting lunch, but for the most part, each step is devoted to Skye advancing through the competition. There's not a ton of suspense as to whether Skye will make it through or not (I think the synopsis makes the outcome pretty clear), but it's still super engaging to see what reality TV twists and turns will get thrown in.
Writing: 5 Lyla is skilled at keeping the book light and engaging even when dealing with difficult subjects. The structure of the story adds so much interest from the start, and she harnesses that to her full advantage. I love books with music and with a reality TV or fame component, and the book fully delivers on all the antics and surprise twists that one would want out of that kind of book. It's a perfect, cute escape. Also, if you're not super invested in K-Pop bands, don't worry. The book provides a super easy overview of the category that is fascinating but never confusing.
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