When I heard about Red, White & Royal Blue in 2019, the premise seemed promising and I was intrigued. But, at the same time, I was also quite doubtful. Despite sounding promising and being hailed as a New Adult novel, this book sounded rife with tropes from the Young Adult genre. And, though, there are quite a few good YA books out there, the genre has been known to be saturated with similar plot-lines, tropes and characters. Exactly how many times do they expect us to read about a “unique and quirky” teenage girl or boy come to cathartic self-realisation about themselves with the help of an equally ‘cool and quirky’ best friend or boyfriend or girlfriend?
As such, when the book came out, I found my initial excitement somewhat dampened. So, I kept putting off reading it. I thought that this book would just prove to be a disappointment though I knew this book was very inclusive. The book was touted as a LGBTQ+ rom-com between the Mexican-American First Son of America and the Prince of England. And, it was set in an America run by a female President. However, the problem that sometimes arises with inclusion and representation is that an author has to make it sound genuine and authentic. And, that is not an achievable feat for everybody. There is a point where the representation might feel too forced. I assumed that this book would follow the same destructive path despite knowing that it had some glowing reviews.
For the past couple of months, I had been going through a reading slump. I could not get into any book. All of them read dully. So, when one of my friends told me that she was thinking about reading this book, I also decided to give it a chance. Enshrouded by the ennui of quarantine and life feeling somewhat colourless, I picked up this book. I went in with no expectations. In fact, I went in expecting that this book would be a failure, a victim of cliché over-worn plot and characters.
To say I was pleasantly surprised might be an understatement. Though the book has minor flaws, it was thoroughly enjoyable. A few weeks ago, I was debating with my friend about what makes an ending great. And, though I do see the necessity in books having an unhappy or open ending, the idealist romantic in me loves happy endings dearly. Because, one of the many wonderful functions served by books is escapism. And, this book fulfills that role beautifully. The present has proven to be a dreadful miasma and many of us feel an ache to escape, augmented by the weeks of staying inside. In such harrowing times, this might just be the book one can read to escape and feel better, even momentarily.
What works with Red, White & Royal Blue is the characterisation of the two protagonists, Henry and Alex. McQuiston manages to make them shine, giving them distinct voices and traits. This allows one to root for them and their love. The dynamic between them is alive and their chemistry electric. Alex and Henry’s banter will make one laugh, while their love letters to each other will melt one’s heart. Their love for each other shone radiantly out of the pages, accentuated by the brilliant quotes McQuiston used from the correspondence of queer historical figures. The romance in this book is, thus, very satisfying to read.
McQuiston also pays adequate attention to the minor characters fleshing them out as distinct people, though she focuses primarily on Alex and Henry. The political side plot might, at times, feel a bit boring and unnecessary, but it does play an important role in the narrative of the story. And yes, the plot is predictable and it has a happy ending. However, it succeeds in providing one with a delightful escape into a world with easy solutions where two boys fall madly in love with each other.
At the end of the day, this book is a light read. The plot is not particularly complex and the characters are easy to root for. Yet the book manages to teach us about acceptance and love. For me, this book matters solely because it portrays how beautiful queer love is and the struggles queer people have to overcome to love who they want to. And maybe that is why it works so well. In troubling times such as the one we have found ourselves in, many of us are suffering from stress and anxiety. And, this book works like a soothing balm to one’s soul.
Miftahul is a curly bigfoot who can be seen reading — whenever you spot her, that is. Occasionally, she writes.