Casey McQuiston’s ‘Red, White and Royal Blue’ is the romance read you’ve been searching for

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Jacqueline Barba

“Red, White and Royal Blue” is the perfect read for politics junkies with a love for well-written romance novels.

By Jacqueline Barba, Downers Grove South High School

All other modern romance novelists bow down, Casey McQuiston’s “Red, White and Royal Blue” has come to sweep us all off our feet. With POC characters, LGBTQ+ representation and a picture of what American politics could be, this novel effortlessly achieves a modernity that feels natural. Lighthearted and funny, full of depth and endearing characters, McQuiston has achieved the creation of a romance novel that doesn’t feel cheesy or forced, a rarity among other works of it’s genre.

“Red, White and Royal Blue” takes place in an alternate universe in which the 2016 presidential election was won by Ellen Claremont, a divorced mother of two, Southern Democrat from Texas. The story is told from the perspective of Alex Claremont Diaz, her son, and follows not only his mother’s grueling path to reelection but also his love story with Prince Henry, the prince of England.

How’s that for a story about international relations?

Though Alex and Henry start off as rivals, they eventually realize the tension between them is built on attraction, not repulsion. This realization in turn causes Alex to gauge where he stands with his sexuality, due to his previous belief that he was heterosexual. Many times, authors can create a sense of heavy foreboding when it comes to a character reckoning with their sexuality, but Alex’s realization that he is bisexual illustrated the importance of the moment without making it feel like a death sentence.

Yes, he’s the First Son of the United States, and yes, he’s a Mexican Catholic, but Alex being bisexual isn’t delivered as an earth-shattering, apocalypse now situation. Instead, Alex finds that his sexuality is simply one aspect of himself he had never really considered that abruptly came to light with the start of his feelings for Henry.

As someone who isn’t a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I can’t say whether this is an accurate portrayal of what someone goes through in this situation. What I can say as someone who has read stories that touch on coming out before, is that I appreciated how McQuiston was able to convey the struggles of being in a minority group without making it seem like a burden.

Too often it seems that when minority characters stories are told, the focus is placed on the hardships of being black or brown or gay. While it’s necessary to include these difficulties in order to tell these stories with integrity, this often makes it seem like minorities live in a perpetual state of doom and gloom, when in reality, being a minority comes with a range of cultural and personal benefits and complexities.

This same concept applies to her writing of Mexican characters. Being Hispanic is an important part of who Alex is and his passions, and McQuiston is able to intricately weave this into his character without creating this idea that to be a minority figure in a place of power is incredibly difficult. Furthermore, she was able to write Mexican characters that spoke Spanish and lived as relatable, authentic Mexican-Americans without sounding like she used Google Translate and then just copied down what she saw people doing in a telenovela.

That alone is a skill many contemporary authors have yet to master.

Even though watching the news these days can be downright depressing, this novel provides the reader with an escape into a world where the First Family reflects the diversity of its people. The picture it painted of an America that chooses to elect a Southern Democrat with two Spanish-speaking, brown kids –including a gay son– was an image of America that I needed to see. I needed to be reminded that an inclusive, well-educated American populace is not something unattainable, but rather something that we should all strive for.

This book offered hope, which can be hard to come by these days.

I also thoroughly enjoyed how lighthearted and genuine the novel was. The characters read like actual 20-something-year-olds, the jokes were genuinely funny and if you like politics, bonus witticisms were appropriately included. McQuiston’s writing is palpably realistic and yet entertaining, a perfect balance of depth and pure, easy-to-read romance.

Time and time again, romance novels get a bad reputation because they are either painfully superficial or attempt to handle serious topics that are inevitably fumbled because of their severity. A good modern romance novel must be able to glide between characters who represent the often overlooked members of our society and their intricacies while also giving you the butterflies. It should offer the escape of falling in love without boiling down “falling in love” to its bare minimum.

In real life, love is messy, tangled, sometimes simple and other times comes with hardships. A proficient romance novelist can translate this onto the page while still gracefully creating a world where people get their happily-ever-afters that doesn’t feel inexplicably beyond the reader’s grasp. It should give the reader hope that isn’t false.

This novel is not serious, though it touches on serious issues. It’s also not overwhelmingly complex, though it’s characters are multi-dimensional. It’s a perfect balance between a book that makes you feel good while avoiding many of the pitfalls of modern day romance writing.

In “Red, White, and Royal Blue” readers can find all this and more. Perfect for anyone from a politics junkie to someone searching for a romance novel that won’t make you roll your eyes in frustration, this novel is a five out of five stars.

This story was originally published on Blueprint on September 16, 2020.