I’ve started and restarted this review a few times. Since Red, White & Royal Blue is now a New York Times bestseller and has been reviewed everywhere, I’m finding that my words are coming up short each time I try to articulate what this book meant to me and what reading it felt like and why you should stop, drop and roll your way to the bookstore nearest to you to buy it immediately. I guess I can tell you about what the Claremont-Diaz family meant to me. How I wished that they existed so that I could be friends with them, this group of people who are genuinely good and are actively trying to make the world a better place. I could tell you that my heart broke and was then rebuilt within the pages of this book, not only because of the wonderful romance but because of the politics, which are so like and so unlike our own. President Claremont and her opponent might not be exact analogs for the presidential candidates of 2016 but the similarities hit a little too close to home at times. There’s even one moment where someone remarks, “I don’t think this campaign is going to hinge on an email server.”
In any case, this novel, author Casey McQuiston’s debut, Red, White & Royal Blue seemed to have a groundswell of support even before advanced copies were ready. The hype grew until it seemed every bookish person I knew had read it and raved about it. And from the first few pages, I had formed an early but concrete opinion: the book is a triumph. A book that makes your heart swell, that provides a spark of hope in the pages that grows so that you too feel like you could make history and change the world when you finish. The genius of the book is that it’s what most readers in it is target audience need—like a bookish security blanket, something that is soothing and stirring all at once. It remains relevant enough but also hilarious and heartwarming in a way that fully envelops you in the story.
By towing the line between light, airy fiction and serious political commentary (at times ramping up the tensions and twists of political intrigue so that I was on the edge of my seat for a third of the book), this book acted like a balm for the anxiety that the current political climate has stirred up. In short, this book was perfect.
A bit of summary: Driven and passionate First Son of the United States, Alex Claremont-Diaz has had a longstanding grudge against Henry, the Prince of Wales. After a disastrous blunder at Henry’s brother’s royal wedding, Henry and Alex are forced on a publicity campaign to save face. What starts off as a one-sided rivalry quickly turns into a begrudging friendship—and despite their best efforts, then turns into something more. The romance is doomed from the start and not only because they’re forced to keep it from everyone in their lives—each of them have too much riding on them, political and familial responsibilities that prohibit their affair. It takes a political scandal for Alex and Henry to realize their true feelings for each other and together they set about challenging tradition, bigotry and prejudice to be together. Of course, all of this happens during the re-election campaign for Alex’s mother, a campaign that seems to be more about decency in America as time goes on (sound familiar?).
Alex and Henry weren’t just props in a love story but fully realized characters with flaws. In fact, their flaws made me love them more. And the cast of characters that we met—their friends, family and colleagues, were all so engrossing. I know a book is well-written when I could easily read novellas or companion novels from side characters’ point of views. Can we have a Nora and June novel? A Zahra and Shaan book? A Pez book? I’d gladly take a Pez book! Please and thank you! With each line of dialogue and scene, I felt like I was being welcomed into a family. I genuinely rooted for President Claremont, the Lometa Longshot, who was a mother first and President second when her son needed her. I cheered for Henry as he stood up to his bullish older brother and felt a swell of pride as Bea, Henry’s sister, and long-absent mother stood up to the Queen on Henry and Alex’s behalf. Each moment spent with these characters was a moment when I felt like I knew them. It was hard to let them go.
This book would be easy to devour but I took my time, unable to let Alex and Henry and the rest of the Claremont-Diaz family go. In fact, there are scenes in this book that will be impossible to forget, and I will happily revisit them again and again. The cinematic mastery of this book means that the best scenes (hard to choose from in a wonderful book such as this) are moments that feel like history, feel like a turning point in some greater narrative. It’s hard to imagine that this was just a book at times, because it felt so real and relevant.
When this book does end, and it’s such a shame that it does, Casey ends the acknowledgements with a note to readers, “To every person in search of somewhere to belong who happened to pick up this book, I hope you found a place in here, even if just for a few pages. You are loved. I wrote this for you. Keep fighting, keep making history, keep looking after one another.”
As if I couldn’t love this author or book more. I definitely found a place within these pages, and I hope that every reader who has the privilege of picking it up will too. I know how important this book will be for LGBTQIA readers, as well as anyone marginalized or who has ever felt different.
I can’t wait for the film adaptation and more readers to continue reading this fabulous book because I know it will go down in history as one of the best fiction and romance books to ever be written. I’m so grateful I got to read it. Don’t sleep on this one, pick up your copy at your local library or bookstore today. You won’t regret it.