[Book Review] Casey McQuiston's 'Red, White & Royal Blue'
Note: This book was discussed at The Night Owl Reads. To participate in upcoming discussions, write to us at email@example.com.
“Thinking about history makes me wonder how I’ll fit into it one day, I guess. And you too. I kinda wish people still wrote like that." "History, huh? Bet we could make some.”
Casey McQuiston's debut novel brings forth a story that tails the life of Alex, the first son of the first female President of the US who gets entangled with HRH Prince Henry of Wales after falling headfirst into the massive $75,000 worth eight-tier wedding cake together at the royal wedding.
The stakes and pressure are high after this international scandal, the US-UK relations at risk, the second term elections around the corner; if there was a beacon that signaled for damage control required, it'd likely be losing its mechanical sanity.
Through the chaos, the safest way of keeping it at bay, other than faking Alex's death and using the dead-kid sympathy to go into a second term as the POTUS, is to project a friendship between the two cranky boys and let it be ctrl+s'ed in the air that all is as well as it ever was and to vote for Ellen Claremont.
Alex Claremont-Diaz, born to a Caucasian mother and a Mexican father, is smart (c’mon he cracked the LSAT, preparing only for a mere few WEEKS before the test date), ambitious and driven and is ever ready to start his political career and be in the Congress before he turns 30. He is close to his older sister June and his best friend/ex-girlfriend Nora, the VP's granddaughter. The media likes to call them the White House Trio.
Prince Henry Fox-Mountchristen-Windsor on the other hand appears to be guarded, composed and precise, "loves" The Great Expectations, and is prim and proper like the heterosexual heir he's supposed to be. He is close with his best friend philanthropist Pez and sister, Bea.
Being forced into friendships is never pretty so we might as well note the big shock of how Alex and Henry's show of playing pretend best friends loses its gloss rather quickly, text after text, and how they hopelessly fall head over heels for each other, email after email.
Right from the beginning, we notice Alex’s perspective of Henry slowly shifting, where he first considers Henry’s distant demure to be rude and self-righteous. Believing that he didn’t possess a personality other than being the arrogant royal prince, we witness a vivid unbelievable one-eighty where chapters post, Alex finds Henry to be an insightful, nerdy, and incredible guy who reminds Alex of home. Alex writes to him 'The phrase “see attached bibliography” is the single sexiest thing you have ever written to me.’
“He rolls onto his side and listens, trails the back of his hand across the pillow next to him and imagines Henry lying opposite in his own bed, two parentheses enclosing 3,700 miles.”
The way McQuiston also puts weight over their interactions across the ocean when they’re far away from one another, opens a window into knowing the characters better, however little the details might matter eventually.
Like how we get to observe Henry being the type who types in careful, complete, and concise sentences, and Alex the type who cared enough to go into the settings of his phone to manually turn off auto caps in order to fit his super chill vibe, which in the long run is not some groundbreaking information. In the day and age of internet where texting is preferred over phone calls or face-to-face interactions, it does hold value in our lives, and I thought it was beyond wonderful of McQuiston to point out.
The book is made rather elaborate by the way Alex and Henry's relationship progresses through time and distance, and McQuiston's effort to develop side characters that strengthened the plot's harmony. I also appreciate the fact that the book doesn’t allow for its fictional persona to shy away from bringing issues like racism, gender, homophobia, drug abuse, ethics, grief, celebrity culture. and mental health to light. It does so without forcing it or glorifying it makes the text a refreshing, and realistic portrait for the readers.
Alex’s contemplation and confusion over his sexuality was rather a fabulous job of McQuiston to include. His conflict with Luna, his role model, was another beautiful exploration. The side characters held such importance in their own ways, and the diversity in the cast and how roles like Zahra, Shaan, Cash, and Amy were put forth was incredible.
The bond between June, Nora, and Pez was also rather heartwarming. The way we get to see the six, Alex, Henry, June, Nora, Bea, Pez, and their friendship towards one another was a bliss and would surely make one go soft. One of the things that make this rivals-to-romance book a hit are the banter, references, and minor details that we notice.
The comfortable and vivid way Henry makes us fall for him with his tender-worded emails without even realising. How the emails became such an adoring exchange and also a sight where we witnessed queer history in the form of historical letter excerpts the two put at the end.
Dear Thisbe, I wish there weren’t a wall. Love, Pyramus
The way Alex is so impulsive, Henry so cautious, their collective frustration, how we see them both growing around each other and doing reckless things along the way like flying across the ocean to go to the Buckingham Palace and call Henry an "obtuse fucking asshole" while standing in the rain, drunk singing and butchering Don’t Stop Me Now, and ghosting after a near-miss of ‘I love you’.
The fluidity of the book was also rather admirable. While the story hastened alarmingly at first and left little room to observe their initial growth, the pacing was pleasing and precise afterwards. If the startling realisation of how near I was to the end of this book was physical, I'd be on the floor, fingers still clutching the measly remaining pages for darling comfort.
The political aspect of the book was handled rather informatively; can’t deny how the slight bashing of Republicans could have been better executed. The close doors political talk glimpses we receive are well-done and Alex being passionate about being a politician couldn't have been better written.
I like how it is clear Ellen accepts Alex’s sexuality but also draws a line to make sure he keeps it a secret until the elections finish, because it’s realistic and the way we all get her side makes McQuiston a rather good narrator. Also the Royal Family dynamic-- ahem, it was orthodox. I admired the way the members took their stand on Henry and Alex’s relationship and were very cross about it to the Queen at the end.
The portrayal of Ellen Clairemont, the first woman President who is originally a Democrat from Texas was thoughtful and I believe that if I had to describe Red, White and Royal Blue in a word, it'd be 'thoughtful' because despite the loose ends, unrealistic and, I'd go as far as to say, useless stakes asserted later in the book, the book had its heart in the right place. It was a beautiful read, and I would, by all means, give anyone the 'go ahead' to discover all the multitudes of adorability and thoughtfulness this book celebrating identity has to offer.
This Night Owl Original has been authored by Karthika.