Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (Goodreads)
Rep: Bisexual/gay rep, Latinx/white lead
I received this book as an ARC from Netgalley for an honest review. **This review is spoiler-free.**
First Son of the United States, Alex Claremont-Diaz, creates a publicity snafu when he accidentally brawls with Prince Henry of Wales at a royal wedding. Damage control dictates that the two men have to play it off like they’re friends — even though Alex can’t stand Henry, that uppity MFer — and they are thrown together for a long weekend and photo op in the UK. Unlikely as it may be, Alex and Henry begin texting at all hours and learn what is underneath each other’s hard veneers; soon, they fall in love. But while Alex’s mother is working on her presidential reelection campaign, and Henry can’t come out due to strict royal regulations, Alex has to wonder: is this love worth the sacrifice? How can they have their happy ending when so much is riding against them?
I didn’t know I needed this book until I read it.
I have so many thoughts about this book, but the biggest is that I didn’t know I needed this until I read it. Yes, it’s adorable; yes, it’s hot. But also, it’s so hopeful.
From the trope of enemies-to-friends-tolovers done well, to heartwarming side characters and intriguing side plots that bring the full breadth of the story to life, I loved almost every second of this book. There is so much juggling going on, but Casey McQuiston executes it all flawlessly, especially the realistic and touching budding friendship to romance between Alex and Henry. They were full of adorable, sweet moments, and also fraught moments of pain and confusion that made me wonder how they were going to make it.
I also loved Alex’s relationship with his sister June and his on/off again relationship with the VP’s granddaughter Nora; Henry’s complicated relationships to his family, including a stuck-up Philip in line to the throne and his wild/misunderstood sister Beatrice; Henry’s flamboyant fashionista friend Pez… The relationships between all of the family members, which is convoluted and complicated but rooted in caring and love, and family friends and enemies in politics, all felt real and believable.
I like this timeline
My only issue with the story was that the timeline took a while to figure out. I expected this story to be in the near future, perhaps 2024, but it actually takes place now. In some alternate universe, Ellen Claremont won the 2016 election as a Democrat and moved her son and daughter into the White House, and the reelection campaign takes place from 2018-2020. The royal family of England still has the Queen (this time, Mary) as the matriarch, but the rest of the family tree is different: Henry’s mother was a princess who married a commoner, and the three heirs are different from the current royal family.
I think I read in the author acknowledgments at the end that she started this book in early 2016 and then had to reevaluate where to take it after our last presidential election. So it’s packed full of hopefulness, to the brink of idealism. I almost wish that the author had fabricated a regal line to dress up, because — practical as I am — I spent too much time figuring out the edges of what was in the real world now vs. what was made up or embellished for this story. It seems to me that switching the timeline would have been easy and would have also saved me some mental gymnastics as I tried to figure out when everything took place. This is why I deducted half a star.
The added bonus of being a Texan
I think everyone who reads this book will be so thrilled at the amazingly-written romance between Henry and Alex, which is established well before the halfway mark, so this is not a spoiler by any means. Their love is amazing, their families’ responses to their relationship is believable, and the tension throughout as the secret risks exposure gave me lots of feelings.
I feel like, as a Texan, I have to talk about the absolute uplifting back story of Alex becoming the FSOTUS (which is not a spoiler either). Alex’s other home is in the Hill Country near Austin, where I live. The author successfully encompassed the feeling of the liberal-blue of Austin and the surrounding conservative-red of rural Texas. Her description of how Ellen, nicknamed the Lometa Longshot from a small town in Texas, rose to the highest seat in the country was so inspiring — I wanted it to be real. Her nuanced view of politics in Texas, especially that of Ellen winning in 2016 by getting enough electoral votes from all the big states but lost her own state — felt believable.
For those readers outside of the US, or even outside of Texas, I’m sure this side plot about Ellen’s political career won’t feel as poignant as it does to me. But it plays a big part in a large chunk of the story, and it was cathartic in a personal way for me.
I want to see a real world where an Ellen Claremont, divorced mother of two, formerly married to a Mexican-American congressman, Democrat, and general good person could win the presidency. I want to see a world where two high-profile guys can fall in love across international lines and hold onto that precious feeling for as long as they want, without fear of repurcussion.
This was a great read. 4.5/5 stars.
Red, White & Royal Blue will be out May 14.