Recommended Read, Review

Review: Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (2019)

Heat Factor: There is a lot of sex. It’s explicit until it isn’t. 

Character Chemistry: Potty-mouth extrovert plus reserved introvert is obviously good chemistry

Plot: Just YES

Overall: This book hit the spot

I am jumping on this bandwagon with both feet! Please don’t burst my happiness bubble. This book was everything. 

Enter a world in which a Democrat, divorced woman with half-Mexican children is elected president after Obama, and an Asian, transgender ex-SEAL can be head of her Secret Service detail. Basically, please enter a fantasy land. In some ways, this is good, because the British Royal family, which is more or less made up, is kind of awful.

Alexander Claremont-Diaz is the son of the president. He cultivates the persona of a playboy while working ceaselessly to cultivate his own political career such that he’ll be, like, the youngest elected congressman in modern history. He’s a senior at Georgetown–old enough to drink and play grownup, young enough to be going through some serious personal growth. As the story opens, Alex hates Prince Henry’s guts. Henry, Prince of England, is generally doing his prince thing, minding his own business at his brother’s wedding, when Alex tugs him over into the wedding cake. This sets off a series of events that changes everything for both men.

After they have a minute to get to know each other a little better while doing PR image rehab after the wedding cake fiasco, they start texting. It’s the insulting kind of friendship they’re engaging in, and at first I wondered if I had read promotional materials correctly: was this a M/M romance? Then, the first kids have a huge New Years party and Alex invites Henry. They make eyes at each other all night, and eventually Henry gets a little jealous and disappears. Oblivious Alex is inexplicably deflated by this disappearance, and goes looking for Henry. What he finds is an earth-shaking kiss that ties him in knots for weeks. Also, his bestie Henry ghosts him after providing said kiss. 

The sort of fun aspect of this romance is that Alex fooled around with his best friend in high school, but he never really thought anything of it because isn’t high school for exploring? But when he becomes obsessed with his feelings about Henry’s kiss, he starts thinking hard, specifically: “Straight people, he thinks, probably don’t spend this much time convincing themselves they’re straight.” So as one does while one is processing weighty thoughts, Alex seeks the counsel of his former lover/current buddy/VP’s granddaughter Nora, and their exchanges are hilarious. It takes a lot of the typical angst out of the “sexual self-discovery” aspect of gay romance. (I’m just thinking back to pretty much every gay movie I watched in college, when one character invariably had an epic meltdown about his/her sexuality.) It projects a very modern approach to this conversation. To wit:

“No, okay, look,” Alex says, “I know, like, objectively on a fucking graphing calculator, it sounds like a huge embarassing crush. But, ugh. I don’t know! He was my sworn enemy until a couple months ago, and then we were friends, I guess, and now he’s kissed me, and I don’t know what we … are.”

“Uh-huh,” Nora says, very much not listening. “Yep.”

“And, still,” he barrels on. “In terms of, like sexuality, what does that make me?” 

Nora’s eyes snap back up to him. “Oh, like, I thought we were already there with you being bi and everything,” she says. “Sorry, are we not? Did I skip ahead again? My bad. Hello, would you like to come out to me? I’m listening. Hi.”

“I don’t know!” he half yells, miserably. “Am I? Do you think I’m bi?”

“I can’t tell you that, Alex!” she says. “That’s the whole point!” 

“Shit,” he says, dropping his head back on the cushions. “I need someone to just tell me. How did you know you were?”

Once Alex gets his head where it needs to be, he plunges in full steam with Henry, but because of both of their positions (it’s election year for Alex’s mother and princes just aren’t gay), and also because sneaking around is kind of fun, they keep the relationship a secret. The romance isn’t so much then about what’s going on between Alex and Henry, but about how seriously they’re taking it and, if it’s serious, how they manage it in view of their very public lives. Just reading back over my notes, I’m remembering all the chills and butterflies I had reading it the first time. There were several gut-clenching moments that sucked me in and made me wonder how this was going to work out (It has to work out!!!), and I want to erase this book from my brain so I can read it again for the first time and have all the rushes over again.

That said, this book was written in a style that feels very young and hip. In case it wasn’t obvious from the quoted passages, it’s written in the present tense, which is quite unusual given that it’s hard to do consistently for a whole book, and the effect of this style is to bring the reader right into the narrative. Similarly, the young people in the book talk like modern young people, which also has the effect of making the reader feel like she’s listening to a friend talk. I found it fresh, but I could see how it would not be pleasant for others, and I’ll acknowledge that there were times that it took a little more mental processing than reading a normal past tense story would. The ending also doesn’t feel super strong because there are several things to tie up at the end, so the denouement is somewhat tapered.

But OMG just get over that stuff because life doesn’t end with a dramatic flourish anyway, and go love this book as much as I do.

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop

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