During the initial lockdown in 2020, many people turned to TikTok as an escape from the unprecedented pandemic. People also began to read more, and TikTok served as the perfect place to share the hot new must-read books of the season. This community, which came to be known as “BookTok,” is thriving. Personally, I spend way too much time on that app and get a lot of my book recommendations from it. Therefore, this article shall be a spoiler-free review of one of the app’s most talked about books.
A book that BookTok has raved about is a novel titled “Red, White, and Royal Blue” by Casey McQuestion. One of BookTok’s favorite subgenres, which this book falls into, is the age-old “enemies to lovers” trope that typically involves the antagonist and the protagonist falling in love by the end of the story. While romance is not a genre I typically read, I found the book on sale and, after reading the synopsis on the back, was sold and bought it that day.
Released in May of 2019, the book follows Alex Claremont-Diaz, the First Son of the United States, and the international affair he has with the English Prince Henry. Juggling a variety of different settings and political procedures, McQuestion does a good job of blending romance and comedy in a fun but predictable 448-page story. It comes off a lot like a Disney Channel original movie with its witty, but sometimes cheesy, dialogue between characters. If it had not been for the foul language and sexual content it could very well have been picked up by Mickey Mouse himself. The novel is fun and engaging in its dynamic and it is an overall easy and quick read that I ended up enjoying much more than I expected.
The book effectively represents the LGBTQ community. It gained a lot of acclaim for portraying a positive gay romance between Alex and Henry which is a big reason why it spread like wildfire on TikTok. When it comes to queer-centered love stories, there are very few high-quality novels out there so it’s a big deal when a good one comes into the limelight. The book also gained a lot of attention because of the sexual relationship between the main characters which is both good and bad. On one hand, it is a positive relationship about two young men discovering themselves through a same-sex romance. On the other hand, this romance is often over sexualized by people outside of the queer community, which is arguably backtracking on the strides that the queer community has been striving to gain for so long.
When reading the book, I saw the relationship as nothing more than a healthy relationship between two young men. It is a small margin of readers who overthink the romance, and it is certainly not the aim of the author to over-sexualize the relationship. The skillfully created dynamic between Alex and Henry is what had me longing for the same type of love that these two fictional characters have.
On the other end of the argument, people reviewing this book were unhappy with the politics it displayed. McQuestion shifts around our common knowledge of who was in power at the time the book takes place. She makes Alex’s mom, Ellen Claremont, a Texas Democrat that holds the title of president and has a progressive liberal view. People voiced their concerns about how unrealistic this setup is. I, however, find this to be unsupported and unreasonable. Firstly, it was the political aspect that drew me to this book. As a political science student and a sucker for all sorts of fictional politics, I found great enjoyment in McQuestion’s reimagined American political system. Readers are not picking up this book because they want to read an accurate political drama; they are picking up this book to read about two gay men who have a cute little relationship across the Atlantic Ocean. The politics are not supposed to be realistic; they are supposed to be an escape from our stressful modern-day lives. This is one of my favorite aspects of the book, and the author does a good job of reworking our political system. The people that are complaining about how unrealistic this is in a fictional romance book are obviously missing the point of the story. As I mentioned before, romance is not a genre I typically read, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much joy I got from reading this book. It’s cute and cheesy in the best possible way. If you are a fan of romance novels, looking for good LGBTQ representation or just want a quick enjoyable read I would suggest adding “Red, White, and Royal Blue” by Casey McQuestion to your list.
Featured Image courtesy courtesy of Larry D. Moore
Author Casey McQuestion at the 2019 Texas Book Festival