Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Review: Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

We here in the US have a sort of conflicted relationship to royalty. We are fascinated by them but we are also proud of our successful rebellion against them. We are definitely conflicted. As is one of the main characters (at least to start with) in Casey McQuiston's charming new romance novel, Red, White and Royal Blue.

Alex Clairmont-Diaz has his life trajectory pretty well planned out. His mother is the President of the United States. His father is a Congressman. He is a political science student who has his own political aspirations and is thrilled to be helping out on his mother's reelection campaign until he can launch his own campaign in a few years. When Prince Philip, the Queen of England's oldest grandson gets married, Alex and his sister June attend the wedding. Normally this wouldn't be any more than a blip in his life but Alex intensely dislikes Philip's younger brother Henry and everything in left-leaning Alex rebels against royal privilege and the spectacle of this royal wedding. Then Alex gets a little drunk and he and the handsome but bland Henry start bickering, ending only when the two of them inadvertently crash into the wedding cake. In order to combat the subsequent bad press and rumors of Alex and Henry's deep dislike of each other, the two are ordered to spend time together and fake a friendship. As Alex gets to know Henry, he discovers that there's a lot more to the proper, buttoned-up prince than he thought and they become true friends. And then they become more. But they have to hide their relationship from a homophobic world that won't accept a gay prince or a bisexual first son.

This modern day romance is a complete delight. Not only do Alex and Henry move from enemies to lovers but Alex must first recognize and accept who he is. Both of them have to decide whether they want to conform to what the world wants of them or if they will be true to themselves. Their growing relationship, presented through texts and emails is sweet and tender but also snarky and hilarious and filled with witty banter and honest expressions of love and struggle. The outside world also presents an obstacle to their love story. Alex doesn't want his sexuality to cost his mother reelection, especially since his biracial identity (his father is Mexican-American and his mother is white) has already been an issue in the past, and Henry is weighted with the centuries long traditions and expectations of royalty. Their respective obligations to their families are enormous but the intrusive and scandal-hungry press is also a deterrent. Alex is occasionally frustratingly immature but both he and Henry are so beautifully human and sympathetic as characters. The secondary characters here are as funny and as endearing as Alex and Henry are. There is a cuteness and lightness to the story that belies some heavy issues (homophobia, sacrifice, love, and being true to oneself to name a few) and the story ends up wonderfully, achingly hopeful. If you can read this and not finish wanting to be these men's friend, I just don't know about you. McQuiston has written an enchanting romantic comedy that will have you reading with a smile on your face and I'd enthusiastically recommend this to all contemporary romance readers.

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