Fiction, Reviews

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Pictured: Book cover on a smartphone screen, with a background featuring part of the Union Jack flag, and a stylized version of the United States of America flag.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Like countless other Americans, I was afraid to say this out loud because of what the consequences might be. To you, specifically, I say: I see you. I am one of you. As long as I have a place in this White House, so will you. I am the FSOTUS, and I am bisexual. History will remember us.

**There are minor spoilers in the “Content Warnings” and “Review” portions of this post, except where major spoilers are otherwise indicated. We will give fair warning before and after a given spoiler, so you can avoid it if you wish.**

Published: May, 2019
Genre: Romance
Representation: People of Colour, Interracial Couple, Bisexual (LGBT+), Pansexual (LGBT+), Lesbian (LGBT+), Gay (LGBT+), Trans (LGBT+), Mental Health
Content Warning: Mild sexual content, anxiety, panic attack, public outing, homophobia (challenged), discussion of racism, discussion of battling cancer and resulting death of a parent, past drug abuse, talk of attempted sexual assault and attempted statutory rape, blackmailing

Summary

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

— taken from Goodreads

Review

So. This book. Oh, this book. This book was so very sweet, so sincere, so honest, and for that and many other reasons, although you almost certainly have not experienced dating the First Son of the United States (in this case, Alex) or a Prince (here, Henry), this book hits you in the heart with how relatable it is. Abarna totally did not expect this – it seemed like it was going to be a sweet and sexy romance novel between two high-profile political figures, who are star-crossed lovers because of their sexuality (gay is a no-no for the Royal Family, and a gay First Son would almost undoubtedly affect re-election efforts). She didn’t realize the impact that this book would make on her, and the fact that the author (Casey McQuiston, respect to you!) did everything she could to do representation right, and appealed to the soul (at least, our souls) of what can sometimes hurt about being a person of colour, an LGBT+ individual, etc. There was tons of diversity in this novel, between main characters and side characters, including: a female president, POC, gay politicians, a few bisexual characters, drag queens, a male-identifying individual who dresses “unconventionally” (with bright hair and nail polish), a trans lesbian member of the Secret Service, a pansexual woman, etc.

To every person in search of somewhere to belong who happened to pick up this book, I hope you found a place here, even if just for a few pages. You are loved. I wrote this for you. Keep fighting, keep making history, keep looking after one another.

– Casey McQuiston (author), “Red, White, & Royal Blue,” Afterword.

Because politics (and sometimes, the world in general) sucks, and this book does a great job at emphasizing that, especially in how the secret relationship between the First Son of the United States and the Prince of Wales must be kept on the down-low to prevent a scandal. A scandal?! For loving who you love?! Why are we still at this point? But of course we are. The hypocrisy is not lost to us – or to any readers, we imagine – that if one of our main characters was a woman, this whole thing would have been less catastrophic than it ended up being. Not only that, but there are various moments in the book where Alex, who is of mixed white and Mexican descent, is insulted for his background, and having the nerve to desecrate a place like the White House. It hurts, but it is also so empowering to see how the characters take it in stride and, more widely, how there are people in the community who support them. 

-Spoiler Ahead-

And it is truly beautiful. When news about Alex and Henry leaks to the public, there is a flood of negative reactions, hateful stereotypes, and horrible commentaries regarding the two of them. It was disheartening but also realistical, and as difficult as it was to read, we’re glad that the book didn’t shy away from those truths. At the same time, though, there are masses of people who show an outpouring of support and love. It was so impactful! Just when you feel like you’re drowning under the weight of the negativity (from the bigots, but also the Crown), feeling like the world will always be predominately heteronormative, racist, sexist, ableist (all of the -isms), you are reminded that there are other people out there, just like you, who care about you and want to make a space for people. It was an excellent and timely reminder, especially in our current times. It’s a reminder that there is some good in the world. And although this book only specifically tackles the acceptance of a gay couple, the message of inclusivity and acceptance isn’t lost on us. And later, when Alex and Henry publicly come out on their own terms, Alex’s speech is enough to make our queer little hearts cry. It was a beautiful acknowledgment of his sexuality, a declaration of belonging, and a promise that as LGBT+ folks, we are real, visible, and deserving. It was so validating. What a wonderful message to its readers. 

-Spoiler End-

The romance in itself was very sweet. The enemies-to-lovers thing happens fairly quickly, so it isn’t the bulk of the book which is unusual for a novel that uses that trope. It is also interesting to see the celebrity-crush-turned-real-love thing play out. Through the book, you are faced with the reality that your image and expectation of who a celebrity is is often carefully rendered and controlled with precision. Plainly speaking, it is not always honest, no matter how full of a picture you may think you are getting. Alex has a very specific idea of who Henry is, which is promptly debunked once he actually spends more time with him. It is fun to watch him have the realization that the person he thought Henry was with absolute certainty was just not accurate. Despite what an extensive media presence somebody has, down to their publicized likes and dislikes, you can never really know who a person is at their core. Finding out who Henry is with Alex is a great reminder of that.

Henry is very eloquent, and his expressions of love are poetic and downright swoon-worthy. Alex is passionate, hilarious and a little insolent, his passion seeping through into everything he does. They are a lovely couple, and they care so deeply for each other, but also for their respective causes. Alex has a lot of funny and relatable (for POC, and queer folks) dialogue that makes you laugh out loud. Henry, who was previously repressed by the Crown and suffering from the loss of his father at a young age, slowly opens up and allows himself to believe that he deserves to be himself and live the life that he wants. It’s wonderful to see him punch out of the box that he has been put in by the position he holds in the royal family. 

Thinking about history makes me wonder how I’ll fit into it one day, I guess. And you too. […] History, huh? Bet we could make some.

– Alex Claremont-Diaz; “Red, White & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston

Something that Abarna must concede, although she is sure it will be an unpopular opinion: reading British stories, specifically about British royalty and the glory of the monarchy, no matter how well it is written, ends up being uncomfortable and sometimes aggravating for her. Being a POC, she can feel bitter and sometimes angry about the seemingly undue respect Britain holds, considering its reputation for merciless violence, thievery, and general colonialism. It’s irksome for books to glorify England, but this book doesn’t do that (much), which is so wonderfully refreshing. Despite the fact that Henry, the love interest, is part of the Royal Family, there is acknowledgement and staunch disagreement with the wrongs his country and his family have committed in the past. Henry helps with LGBT+ youth shelters, and helps support his community with the inheritance his non-royal father left him, and he more than once comments on the injustices from history. He also (hilariously) brings up how many of his predecessors were probably gay, despite the obvious desire for the Crown to suppress that information. It is so validating to see this acknowledgment, and it helped Abarna enjoy the book more than she otherwise may have.

Things wrapped up a little too perfectly at the end, in that sweet, albeit implausible way of romance novels – but we can accept it, because who doesn’t love a happily-ever-after?

And the whole world watched, and history remembered.

2 thoughts on “Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston”

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