Book review: Red, White & Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston

McQuiston, Casey. Red, White & Royal Blue. St. Martin’s Griffin. 2019. $16.99. 421p. HC. 9781250316776.

He turns to June and slurs, “Bisexuality is truly a rich and complex tapestry,”

Alex Claremont-Diaz is the First Son. As the First Son, he is predictably charming, clever, and hard-working. He has been trained to avoid international incident, and always manages to avoid any red-hot scoldings from his mother’s staffers. That is, until one drunken royal wedding, where an altercation with his nemesis, Prince Harry, ends up plastered all over the Internet and every newspaper around. Forced to be subjected to Prince Harry’s presence while he does damage control, he soon realizes his dislike for Harry might be something else entirely…

To be quite honest, it has been months since I’ve finished Red, White and Royal Blue, and I am still grieving the loss of these characters in my life. McQuiston manages to create such escapist fantasy that I never wanted to put the book down and return to the “real world” again. While there are many things about this novel that make it fiction, it felt like a reality that could be reached someday. For any progressive, this book will immediately read as a Blue Wave fever dream, where Alex and Harry are accepted and celebrated instead of shamed and shunned; where sisters like June are loyal and dedicated instead of judging and lacking; where friends like Nora are hard-working and straight-forward instead of withdrawn. Alex’s parents take his sexual crisis and give the kinds of response many queer kids could only dream of; and who doesn’t want to see the most powerful woman in America throw her election campaign to the wind in favor of a Great Love Story?

McQuiston makes this book riveting and fast-paced without ever introducing much bigotry at all — a feat that many authors writing about queer characters have yet to manage. A lot of this success comes down to the downright genius of McQuiston’s writing, but a good portion of it is the result of this being one of the very few own-voices novels for bisexuals. Alex Claremont-Diaz is a character whose tapestry was ripped from the tissue of my heart, and this bisexual is over the moon to have found another impulsive, neurotic, chaotic mess to call a friend, even if he’s fictional. Alex’s journey to realizing his bisexuality in full was drawn from the pages of my own, and probably many others. The sheer force by which McQuiston places his bisexuality front-and-center for much of the book was refreshing.

But Alex is not the only star of this novel: Prince Harry is a worthy love interest, where a tragic backstory and quiet bravery make for a character worth rooting for. Where Alex is loud and obnoxious (hello, been there, DO that), Prince Harry sits in his thoughts, mulling things over before coming to any conclusion. Where Alex is impulsive and reckless, Prince Harry is pragmatic and slow-going. Of course, this is no accident: they are complementary, and their rich, sexy banter only adds to the hilarity of their situation.

This romantic comedy is the perfect summer read, full of big emotions, clever banter, and characters will claim a part of your heart. Moreover, it is SO GAY. Alex and Harry aren’t the only queer characters you’ll meet throughout the book, and each one adds another level of representation to this novel. This book is a cure for any book slump, depression, or bigot fatigue — it is a full-throttle dream that wraps you inside it and never completely lets you go. You will be thinking about this story and these characters long after you’ve closed the book, and the hope that grows in the wake of this story is one we should all have growing in our hearts.

Rachel R. Newlin
Schaumburg Township District Library

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