Thursday, January 17, 2019

Book Review: "Red, White & Royal Blue" by Casey McQuiston

Oh. My. God. I couldn't have loved this book more.

It was sweet, it was romantic, it made me cry, it made me hopeful, it made me bitter that there weren't books like this when I was growing up, but it made me so happy there are books like this now for those who need it.

Alex Claremont-Diaz is the First Son of the United States. His mother is finishing her first term as president and is gearing up for a bruising re-election fight, and his father is a congressman from California. Alex is quite a celebrity—he's good-looking, charming, politically savvy, and exceptionally smart, and along with his older sister and the genius granddaughter of the vice-president, comprise the so-called "White House Trio," a group of popular millennials constantly (and purposely) in the public eye.

Alex is happy to do whatever is expected of him to help his mother, unless that whatever includes playing nice with Prince Henry of Wales, an heir to the throne (the "spare," actually) and a constant thorn in Alex's side.

"It's not a grudge, really. It's not even a rivalry. It's a prickling, unsettling annoyance. It makes his palms sweat."

When the pair's interaction at a royal wedding turns into a confrontation with embarrassingly messy (and expensive) results, damage control is necessary on both sides, so a fake friendship is created for the press and the public on both sides of the pond.

Spending time together is torture for both Alex and Henry, but somewhere during the public appearances aimed at positive photo ops, Alex realizes there's more to Henry than the handsome, perfect, and bland persona that infuriates him. Somewhere along the way both start to enjoy each other's company and the companionship via text, email, and phone that results. No one else really understands the demand of their respective roles, and no one else really understands the demons that cause them moments of sadness and doubt.

Without warning (at least to the two of them, not the reader), Alex and Henry fall intensely for each other. Both know the risks of their relationship becoming public, but they can't stay away from each other, which is no mean feat, considering Alex's mother is running for re-election and Henry is in the UK. Are they ready to jeopardize everything—Alex's mother's chance at a second term, the disapproval of Henry's grandmother the queen and the rest of his family, not to mention the damage to the monarchy? But can they walk away from each other if they need to?

"When Alex was a kid, before anyone knew his name, he dreamed of love like it was a fairy tale, as if it would come sweeping into his life on the back of a dragon one day. When he got older, he learned about love as a strange thing that could fall apart no matter how badly you wanted it, a choice you make anyway. He never imagined it'd turn out he was right both times."

Casey McQuiston made me fall hopelessly in love with this book and these characters. Even the supporting characters have more to them than meets the eye, and it's what made this book so utterly special. Is it predictable? Sure. Does it matter? Hell, no. The emotions, the fears, the doubts, the what-ifs—none of it is melodramatic, it's just so damned lovely.

Beyond the story that McQuiston has told so well, what I loved most about this book is the hope that such a love story could actually be real in this day and age. Sure, a couple like Alex and Henry would have to face crazy resistance and prejudice and opposition from many quarters, but it's definitely possible. And for an adolescent struggling with their sexuality, wondering if they ever could live happily ever after with their own prince, princess, or whomever they dream of, this book isn't a total fantasy.

I know in January 2020 (egads) when I look back on the best books I read in 2019, Red, White & Royal Blue will be among them, even though the lack of serial comma in the title is killing me. This sweet, sexy, emotional, truly special book is one I won't soon forget.

NetGalley and St. Martin's Press provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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