Published by St. Martin's Griffin on May 14, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult, Romance
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A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends...
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?
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
content warnings: alcohol use, homophobia (always challenged), anxiety, ADHD, depression, talk of past drug use and drug addiction, depictions of racism in media, talk of past loss of a parent, talk of grief, brief mentions of pancreatic cancer in the past, brief talk of attempted sexual assault in the past (from a side character), outing, extensive discussions of politics
It’s always indescribably difficult to sit down and attempt to write a review for a book that you know, immediately upon finishing, will almost certainly land at the top of your list of favorite books of the year; a book you realize, furthermore, has absolutely earned a spot on your “forever favorites” shelf on Goodreads. But here I am, reviewing this gem of a book that now owns a piece of my heart. Red, White & Royal Blue is the sweet, smart, fresh, current New Adult book I’ve been dreaming about for years. And it’s a DEBUT (honestly? probably the best one I’ve ever read).
Red, White & Royal Blue is told from the perspective of one Alexander Claremont-Diaz, the First Son of the United States. His mother, President Ellen Claremont, is the nation’s first female President, elected post-Obama– oh, and did I mention she’s a Democrat from Texas? *cries in red state Dem* This book is set in 2019 and 2020, so the story chronicles the characters’ lives during the period when President Claremont is running for reelection. RWRB is told in third-person present tense, which normally gives me pause, but the narration is so engaging and the way Alex interacts with the world so relatable that I adjusted easily to the present-tense narration.
After Alex and his self-declared rival, Prince Henry of Wales, get into an altercation at a royal wedding that turns into a PR nightmare for both sides, the two are forced to fake a bromance for the press as damage control… and, of course, love and banter and lots of excellent sexy scenes ensue. Both men have to juggle their growing feelings for one another while walking the tightrope of life under intense media scrutiny, and, in Alex’s case, discovering that he’s maybe not as straight as he’s always believed.
I’ve read a lot of books with excellent bi rep, but Alex’s bisexuality is perhaps the one that feels most true to my own (I believe the author also IDs as bisexual). Like Alex, I didn’t realize I was queer until my early twenties, and it hit me like a ton of bricks once I unpacked all of the societal norms and internalized feelings that prevented me from seeing this about myself all along. The bisexual representation in RWRB alone is enough to make me hold this book close to my heart forever, and I can’t thank Casey McQuiston enough for somehow putting this experience into words. Alex is also biracial: half white, and half Mexican. This is discussed often, because Alex and his sister, June, face a unique brand of public scrutiny as the brown children of a white President. You can be the child of the most powerful person in the world, and not even that can protect you from both overt and covert racism. Really, I saw so much of myself in Alex and the way he engages with the world around him. Like Alex, I’m a person who often comes off as too much, too loud, too opinionated, too aggressive, which is often just a product of his brain firing at all cylinders, all the time (Casey McQuiston has actually confirmed that he has undiagnosed ADHD). Also, this book is laugh-out-loud funny on all levels, but Alex’s internal monologue is what had me losing it the most. He’s always ready with a witty one-liner, whether he says it out loud or just thinks it.
This brings us to Henry George Edward James Fox-Mountchristen-Windsor: actual prince charming, hufflepuff cinnamon roll, writer of love poetry in email form, and closeted gay royal who bursts into Alex’s life and heart like the Kool-Aid Man. Not only is Henry able to charm the pants (literally) off Alex and (figuratively) off the reader, but his earnestness is the perfect counter to Alex’s acerbic wit. These two dumb idiots balance each other so perfectly. While, yes, obviously there is incredible sexual chemistry between these two, I loved their emotional connection even more. They are able to work through some very real things together– Henry’s lingering grief over his father’s death and the pressure he feels to be the perfect royal his family wants him to be, Alex’s need to just chill the fuck out and slow down sometimes– and that’s exactly what our best romantic relationships do for us. They make us into better people and allow us to grow as individuals as well as as a unit.
While we’re on the subject of characters, I have to mention the incredible cast of side characters (I hesitate to even call them side characters, because this is just as much their story as Alex’s and Henry’s, in so many ways) that brought Red, White & Royal Blue to life for me. The White House Trio and, later, the Super Six, immediately skyrocketed to the top of my favorite literary friend groups. There’s June Claremont-Diaz, Alex’s polished, protective, aspiring-journalist older sister who is exactly the kind of Southern lady I gravitate toward and aspire to be. Then we have Nora Holleran, granddaughter of the VP and the third member of the White House Trio: data genius, religious Drag Race watcher, Alex’s fellow disaster bi, and IRL chaos demon. We have Henry’s older sister Bea, recovering addict, defender of gay royal siblings, and exactly the kind of cool princess who could have been a rock star in another life. Finally, there’s Percy “Pez” Okonjo, Henry’s best friend, millionaire philanthropist, life of the party, and fashion icon. The friendships and sibling relationships felt intensely real and true-to-life. Everyone knows a Pez, a Nora, a June, a Bea. All of the side characters enrich the lives of the MCs, but they also have their own internal motivations; they aren’t simply props or plot devices. The author struck the perfect balance of presenting a cast of characters who lead glamorous lives and get opportunities most of us can only dream of, but who still feel very human and relatable– to use a political cliche, the type of people you could grab a beer with. And I can’t tell you, as a 23-year-old, how refreshing it was to read about a group of friends navigating the limbo that is post-college life together, even if it was a very swanky version of post-grad life. (Also, let me make something crystal clear: I would date and/or die for Nora Holleran.)
The family dynamics were also a highlight. Even though Alex’s parents are both politicians, they always, always put their children first every time, even if it’s to the detriment of their political standing. This meant to much to me. Ellen Claremont is the badass Texas mom who you trust to get! the! job! done!, whether “the job” is solving an international crisis or disciplining her rowdy children. (And as someone who was raised by a Texan mom from Austin? I lived for it.) A PowerPoint queen and a force to be reckoned with, truly. I also really appreciated the depiction of divorce here, as it’s something I don’t often see done well in books. Both of Alex’s parents have their flaws, and they’re not best friends, but they do have their children’s best interests at heart, always.
Another huge strength of this book is the dialogue, both written and verbal. So much of Henry and Alex’s romance occurs through emails and texts, and hell if their email correspondence wasn’t just as swoony as their IRL interactions with one another. Also, Casey McQuiston excels at writing the way actual 20-somethings communicate through online conversations and texts. Mostly, she has mastered the art of capturing the group message, in all its chaos, on the page. Both the online dialogue and the in-person dialogue had me CACKLING aloud (I was sitting on my couch reading this on my day off, and my roommate texted me to ask if I was okay because I could not stop laughing at one point and she could hear me dying all the way from her room). This is one of the goddamn funniest books I have ever read in my life. Most importantly, the banter and the witty one-liners, in addition to being hilarious, felt organic and natural to the characters. The dialogue never feels forcibly quirky or like it’s trying too hard, which is a huge testament to Casey McQuiston’s strengths as a writer.
Now we arrive at the thing about Red, White & Royal Blue that perhaps played the biggest factor in why I loved it: the politics. Anyone who knows me knows that I am… a huge political nerd. I’m constantly looking at polling, I listen to political podcasts religiously, I spend hours of my life volunteering on campaigns during election season. Being engaged in politics has always brought me a sense of enthusiasm and purpose, but ever since 2016, that enthusiasm politics used to bring me has waned significantly (as I’m sure it has for a lot of folks). Red, White & Royal Blue was EXACTLY what I needed to read going into 2020. I plan to bottle the feeling of hope this book gave me and sip from it as necessary for the next 18 months leading up to the general election. As my dear friend Melanie put it in her review, “this book made me simultaneously believe in love and believe in America.” This story presents America as it is, flaws and ugliness and all, but it approaches America with a sense of cautious optimism. It presents the version of America, and the version of the South, that I hold in my deepest heart of hearts. As a Democrat in a deeply red state, who, like Alex, has never and will never give up on my state and the people in it, no matter the doomsday predictions from people outside the state… let’s just say the ending had me crying an endless stream of happy, emotional tears. Having the President in this alternate reality be a woman Democrat from Texas meant so much to me. This book is, in so many ways, a love letter to red state liberals who are trying to make people’s lives better, even when others don’t often recognize their efforts. Upon flipping the last page of this book, I wanted to immediately start volunteering on a 2020 campaign. The best books allow us to escape for a few hours and imagine a better world, and reading Red, White & Royal Blue brought me both escapism and catharsis.
Overall, if you haven’t already deduced this from my review, Red, White & Royal Blue captured my heart from the first page and never let it go. I laughed, I cried, I swooned, and I fell head-over-heels for every character in this book. It’s a story that feels incredibly timely and current, but that I think will also endure the test of time. I see myself returning to it often in the future when I need a little hope and sunshine. I can’t recommend it highly enough– if you haven’t already, you can preorder it here! This story was a joy to read from start to finish, and I plan to support Casey McQuiston and their queer romances forever and ever, amen.
(This review was brought to you by McQuiston’s June Claremont-Diaz character playlist, which has been on constant repeat since they dropped the link.)
Have you read Red, White & Royal Blue? If so, let’s discuss! If not, do you plan to pick it up?