Red, White, and Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston
New Adult, Romance, Humor | M | 5 stars
Nothing will stop Alex Claremont-Diaz from being the way he is.
That's a good thing, because the son of the first female president of the United States is really easy to love. He's smart, sarcastic, and prone to occasional bouts of extremely poor judgment - at one point in the story, he even comments that being in way over his head is his comfort zone.
By the end of the first chapter, Alex's ongoing feud with Prince Henry of Wales has resulted in the public destruction of a $75,000 wedding cake. His mother and her chief of staff inform him in no uncertain terms that they will be releasing a joint statement with the English monarchy dismissing the incident as an accident and claiming that Alex and Henry are actually "close personal friends" - and that it's on Alex to make it believable, complete with photo ops and a talk show appearance with Henry. Neither Alex nor Henry are particularly thrilled with this plan, but after a few private conversations, Alex discovers that while Henry's public persona may have "the personality of a cabbage," the real Henry has a sense of humor, loves ewoks, and watches the Great British Bake Off before going to bed. Within a couple months, they're flirting via text, reaching out for emotional support, and... well, you knew that this wasn't going to be a platonic bromance, right?
Good. Because it isn't. The enemies-to-lovers trope is a classic for a reason, and it's executed amazingly here.
There are a lot of other things to love about this story, too. McQuiston's cast of characters is genuinely diverse - very slight spoilers under the tag:
Alex is half-Mexican and queer. Henry is obviously the most significant character apart from him, and he's white and queer. After that, it's a little difficult to say out which supporting characters are the most significant, but by my interpretation, more than half are women, several are people of color (including Alex's sister June), and at least one is queer. (Really tough to parse this one, both because of which characters to count and some strong hints that a character whose orientation is never explicitly defined is queer as well.) Struggles with mental illness are also an underlying but consistent presence throughout the story.
So it's not just that a wide variety of identities are represented - it's that many of those identities are reflected in more than one character. As importantly, identity is explored primarily through characters' experiences rather than exposition, and even when characters face bigotry, they aren't defined by trauma or the hate of others. Most of what we're seeing is just people living their lives while being who they are, and there's a lot of power in that - especially if you find yourself identifying with some of them, as I definitely did.
McQuiston also strikes a great balance between wish fulfillment and realism. While the book's version of 2016 ended in the election of Democrat Ellen Claremont as the country's first female president, political realities around racism and homophobia still complicate Alex's relationship with Henry in some significant ways, and the Claremont re-election campaign faces a number of dirty attacks. The United States has not turned into a liberal utopia - it's just better in a way that feels attainable, which helps the story feel cathartic rather than a depressing "what if."
My only caveat here is that if you don't like sex scenes, this is definitely not the book for you - while the scenes aren't particularly graphic, there are a lot of them.
Five days ago, I hadn't read this book at all. I'm now on my third reread - this is only the second book I've ever finished and immediately gone back to read again. I can't recommend it highly enough.