Full disclosure, before I dive into my review of Red, White and Royal Blue: I have known author Casey McQuiston for years. She has consistently been a bright light in my life, her generosity and ferocity of spirit pretty much unmatched. I love her writing, especially when she uses it to craft compelling, romantic narratives, and this book absolutely embodies all of those things.
Now, let’s talk about this book, which features a mixed race bisexual protagonist and ridiculously endearing cast of characters, all of whom I love to pieces. Red, White and Royal Blue is a young adult rom-com from debut author Casey McQuiston, slated for release on June 4, 2019 from St. Martin’s Griffin. Here’s the official plot description, per GoodReads:
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’m lucky to have read an advanced copy of Red, White and Royal Blue ahead of its release date, especially because I have been so looking forward to it ever since Casey first started talking about it. The story grabbed me from the first page, since the rom-com shenanigans kick off immediately. Once I really got into it, about halfway through chapter two, I stayed up well past my bedtime in an attempt to finish it all in one go. This story is beautifully paced and reminds me of other m/m love stories that made me feel all the softest, gooey-est feelings, including the first Merlin fanfiction I ever read (Drastically Redefining Protocol by AO3 user rageprufrock, published in 2009) and Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On.
Conveniently, Red, White and Royal Blue also explores a plot line that I’ve loved since I saw Mandy Moore in Chasing Liberty (or perhaps even earlier, considering My Date With the President’s Daughter came out when I was eight): the first child of the United States falling head-over-heels in love with someone they aren’t supposed to so much as look at in a romantic way.
I’m in love with all of the tropes Casey explores here: enemies-to-friends-to-lovers, antagonism disguised as camera-ready, legitimate enjoyment of a person’s company, sappy emails exchanged at all hours of the night. I got swept up in the relationship between Alex and Henry, fell in love with their friends (I would kill for a spin-off starring just Nora, Jude and Pez, with frequent guest appearances by Bea, who doesn’t at all get her due until way too late in RWARB).
It’s clear that Casey did her research on how a relationship between the First Son of the US and the Prince of Wales would have to function and what the ramifications could be, which adds an element of realism to the story that I appreciated. It’s also clear that she wanted to write a romance that is desperately, achingly hopeful. I’m happy that she succeeds, because the alternative — heartbreak, swift and permanent political failure, or some combination thereof — is horrifyingly possible at several points in this narrative and that tension is painful to endure.
Red, White and Royal Blue is also a liberal fever dream. It imagines a world where the United States is less willing to show its white supremacist face, where Texas can go blue, where legislation that doggedly and repeatedly strips rights away from marginalized people is more often replaced by legislation that upholds and affirms their status as human beings trying to live their daily lives. Just one week ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections, in the midst of continuing humanitarian crises furthered by a belligerent president and a government that contributes to its own destruction from both sides of the party line more often than not, I can appreciate why Casey wanted to create this world. I can understand and appreciate how it would be cathartic for readers who are scared of the power their government holds and how that power is wielded. I think this book will offer a much-needed escape for many, though personally, I often found the optimism in this universe to be too unbelievable and therefore somewhat hard to swallow.
That being said, I really, genuinely loved these characters and found myself almost totally caught up in this book — as evidenced by how quickly I flew through it and how often I had to pause and catch my breath at how beautifully rendered the relationship between Alex and Henry is. This book is sexy and sweet and, if sometimes a little too perfect, still a supremely enjoyable read. I can’t wait to read what else Casey has up her sleeve.
Overall rating: ★★★★½
Recommended for: Romantic comedy fans who want more and better bisexual and gay representation, particularly from young adult fiction; anyone who feels disheartened by the world and needs an escape that’s heavy on romance, hope, and soft, sultry, non-explicit love scenes