As the Texan half-Mexican son of the first female president of the United States, Alex Claremont-Diaz is used to the spotlight. He has a carefully cultivated public image as America's heartthrob, with an easy intelligence and a devil-may-care attitude. He's careful to hide his sense of isolation, the insomnia, the way he throws himself into work or school when life becomes too much, and even his reading glasses from the outside world, only allowing his sister and their best friend Nora to see those parts of him. The one aspect of his life that he seems unable to contain is his growing obsession with Henry, the Prince of Wales. Painted in the media as rivals, Alex can’t help but feel that Henry is the embodiment of everything he should be and that he’ll “always be compared to someone else, no matter what [he does], even if [he] works twice as hard.”
After a public altercation between Alex and Henry makes its way into the tabloids, heads of family and public relations work to create the illusion of friendship between the two young men. When Alex finds himself forming a real connection with Henry, he begins questioning everything he thought he knew about Henry, and re-examining the ideas he had of himself.
On the surface, Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue is the modern-day Prince Charming story with a queer twist that we didn’t know we needed. Beyond the classic heart-warming romantic comedy, the book is a smart commentary on American politics and antiquated notions of morality. McQuinston uses Alex’s voice to share what much of the U.S. has been feeling since the 2016 elections; We Are Ready for a female president, We Are Ready for people of color to be seen, We Are Ready for LGBTQ+ people to be heard. Hate is prevalent, but it is not representative of our nation as a whole. You may feel like the world is a hopeless place, but You Are Not Alone. Make your voice matter.
The book also puts a spotlight on the way consumers hyper-fixate on public figure’s personal lives, leaving them without room to explore who they are and what they want from life without it becoming a public spectacle. It exhibits the effects that growing up in the public eye can have on a young person, particularly when dealing with grief, trauma, and identity.
Alex effectively represents what it’s like to be a minority from a notoriously bigoted place, and to know that there’s more to your home than that. He speaks up for the parts of Texas that are not known or heard. He works hard to try and show that he and his family represent their southern routes with (and not in spite of) their blended, unapologetically liberal family.
Henry depicts a struggle familiar to many queer young people; the obligation to remain closeted and be what your family expects you to be, or to be honest about who you are in spite of the consequences. The main difference between his struggle and that of most is that he is in a position of power, which makes the stakes very high, but also gives him a chance to make a real difference in the world around him.
“What are we even defending here [...]? What kind of legacy? What kind of family, that says, we’ll murder, we’ll take the raping and pillaging and the colonizing, we’ll scrub it up nice and neat in a museum, but oh no, you’re a bloody poof? That’s beyond our sense of decorum!”
Through love letters between the two protagonists, McQuiston showcases several queer historical figures, and casts some interesting speculation on a few historic political leaders. It leaves the reader with the clear message that gay people have always existed, and it is not wrong or immoral to be gay.
Red, White, & Royal Blue feels like a version of what the U.S. political landscape might have been, and is an important story to come out in 2019 because it paints a picture of what should be. Readers can explore concepts of naive idealism and blatant corruption, and put into perspective what is important in a world leader.
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