Review – Red, White & Royal Blue

rw&b

  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (May 14, 2019)
  • Publication Date: May 14, 2019
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English

From the publisher:

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.

Review:

RW&RB is brilliant. One of the reasons I treasure this book is because it is one of the few modern LGBQTA+ romances that demonstrates an awareness of the history of the LGBQTA+ movement. To a degree, that makes sense. After all, romance is the genre of escapism and hope. Talking about the AIDS crisis or Stonewall or Compton’s Cafeteria Riot might not make for escapist reading. However, given the political environment of the novel and both Alex’s and Henry’s roles in their families and respective governments, history and politics form a central preoccupation. The main characters are the sons of world leaders. Therefore, their romance, as it grows, has the power to alter history and our main characters know this, a fact encapsulated in Alex’s phrase, “History, huh?”

But there’s more to it, right? Because LGBQTA+ people have had to contend with more than just violence and intolerance. We’ve had to deal with outright historical erasure. It becomes a major theme of the novel. Alex and Henry are constantly analyzing their place in history, especially given the consequences of their growing love for each other. The moment they both embrace the fact that they will occupy a glaring spot in the history of both countries, it is both epic and humbling for both characters. One of the most powerful moments is Alex speaking in a press conference and he tells his audience, “I am the First Son of the United States, and I’m bisexual. History will remember us.” A constant theme, McQuiston’s answer to historical erasure is to place the First Son of the United States and the Crown Prince of England on a world stage and in love and dare history to ignore them.

The book is also a coming out narrative. Alex comes to terms with his bisexuality as he falls ever deeper in love with Henry. There is forced exposure of the main character’s sexuality – if this is a trigger for a reader, be forewarned that it plays a central role in the plot. But the writer handles this deftly, and the responses by the different parties involved (Alex’s mother, his sister and best friend, Henry’s family and, finally, the public) are internally consistent for the novel but also realistic on a larger scale. McQuiston paints an optimistic world where some people are ogres about the revelation of Alex and Henry’s romance but most are cheering for them and take courage from their love. Essentially, all the right people are on their side, including the British and American public. America comes off a bit better in this novel than it does in real life.

Let’s talk romance a minute. There is a wonderful mashup of tropes in this novel: enemies-to-friends, fake relationships here and even forbidden love as Alex and Henry work to find reasons to see each other. The emails between them are a work of art on their own. McQuiston models their communications on the love letters of famous people throughout history. I have a collection of letters somewhere on my hard drive that I once collected by Virginia Woolf, Alexander Hamilton and Simon Beauvoir, among others and it was thrilling to see some of these show up in the letters between Alex and Henry. Their love and longing is palpable and is one of the highlights of the novel. I could read a book based on their letters alone and be happy. Alex goes from brusque American braggadocio to poetically waxing about his love for Henry and Henry’s responses are positively literary. The wit and banter is hip and clever but when they talk about love, the words smoulder on the page.

And the love scenes – if you are an aspiring writer, each love scene is worth studying as an exemplar of how to write love scenes rooted in strong characterization. They are a splendid combination of sexual desire, emotional intensity and delicacy – truly some of the best love scenes I’ve ever read.

Favorite Quotes:

Thinking about history makes me wonder how I’ll fit into it one day, I guess. And you too. I kinda wish people still wrote like that. History, huh? Bet we could make some.

But the truth is, also, simply this: love is indomitable.

Should I tell you that when we’re apart, your body comes back to me in dreams? That when I sleep, I see you, the dip of your waist, the freckle above your hip, and when I wake up in the morning, it feels like I’ve just been with you, the phantom touch of your hand on the back of my neck fresh and not imagined? That I can feel your skin against mine, and it makes every bone in my body ache? That, for a few moments, I can hold my breath and be back there with you, in a dream, in a thousand rooms, nowhere at all?

You are a delinquent and a plague. Please come.

Never tell me the odds.

An enthusiastic 5-star read.

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