“He’s not afraid of anything he feels. He’s not afraid of saying it. He’s only afraid of what happens when he does.”
Formed of this line and many like it, Casey McQuiston explores identity, queerness, and politics in her debut masterpiece Red, White & Royal Blue, striking a chord with every LGBTQ+ reader who picks it up. As a reader who is a fan of both rom-coms and political activism, and is brown and queer, this book felt like a handcrafted blessing meant to land in my lap and bring a quick halt to my dreary, heat-induced reading block in the middle of a brutal Indian summer. For me, it was pretty much perfect – refreshingly engaging, sexy, smart and packed with delightful characters, sweeping romance, genuine humour, and political drama. It was a breath of fresh air to find this book and spend hours excitedly marking my favourite lines with a pencil and post-it notes. In an alternate universe where the U.S President is a smart Texan woman (instead of a certain orange clown), the First Son, Alex Claremont-Diaz struggles to navigate his place in history and face multiple parts of his identity- the budding young politician and the roguishly charming teen heartthrob reconciling with his half-Mexican blood and newly-discovered bisexuality.
When a mishap at a wedding in Buckingham Palace forces Alex to spend extra time with his rival, Prince Henry of Wales, he begins to learn that the Crown Prince is a lot more than he seems- that the cool exterior consisting of the gently arrogant smile and pale golden face hides a world of depth. Going from petty rivalry to clandestine hookups in the royal stables and writing distressingly passionate emails quoting classical romance novels, Alex and Henry fall in love, and it is every bit as indulgent and romantic as one can hope.
The book, upon first glance, is easy to dismiss as yet another cheesy rom-com, but the key lies in the representation and the writing. McQuiston unfolds the love story remarkably well, giving us time to get to know and love the two young men, along with the supporting characters, their irresistible friends and families. The author does not shy away from addressing a myriad of important issues, such as homobhobia, mental health, America’s rampant sexism, racism and the troublesome politics of the far right, and through Henry confronts Britain’s history as an empire built on colonization and genocide. The book depicts these issues as real enough to touch a nerve, but at the same time
weaves a wonderful world that one can escape into to catch a break from our reality’s dire political climate, specifically relevant because of the next election being a mere year away. I put down this book feeling incredibly emotional – there is unmistakably something special about a queer author writing queer characters. At one point while questioning his sexuality, Alex says, “straight people probably don’t spend this much time convincing themselves they’re straight,” which is something I feel like everyone in the LGBTQ+ community has faced.
I was left feeling a large amount of resonance- with Alex’s journey to understanding bisexuality as a young brown person, which was so like mine, and his anxiety and panic attacks, which I’d never seen so accurately depicted in the books I’d grown up with. Alex says that “he’s been aware for too long that most people don’t navigate thoughts of whether they’ll be good enough or if they’re disappointing the entire world”, and I felt seen. I was left feeling giggly, because the characters’ quick wit and dumb shenanigans made me snort out loud. I was left feeling sad too, because I remembered how much work there is left to do to create a world where this story can really take place. Where “every person in America will be able to look at a screen and see their First Son and his boyfriend. And, across the Atlantic, almost as many will look up over a beer at a pub or dinner with their family or a quiet night in and see their youngest prince, the most beautiful one, Prince Charming.” Where the prince of England and the son of the American president can be in love and make history.
Most importantly, I was left with hope. Hope, because of the reminder that I am not alone, that a community of people like me are out there, are creating art like this, and have a lot of love to give.