Bi Book Club: Red, White & Royal Blue

By Jennie Roberson

January 04, 2022



Photo credit: Pexels/Designcologist

Hello there, my beautiful bi bookworms! I hope everyone is cozied up in their favorite turtleneck or burrowed under a treasured blanket, enjoying the cool weather. I, for one, have definitely busted out my favorite fuzzy socks.

The only thing missing from that picture was a good book to curl up with, so I decided to check my list of bi books to see if anything caught my fancy. Lo and behold, there was Red, White & Royal Blue (2019), a queer romance by Casey McQuiston. I didn’t really know much about the plot — only that it had been highly recommended by a buddy of mine for months. So when it was ready to pick up, I checked the back cover for a synopsis. Right smack dab at the top of praise blurbs was a rave from Taylor Jenkins Reid, one of my absolute faves. I immediately chastised myself for not picking it up sooner — especially since it’s slated for a movie adaptation soon on Amazon Prime.

Before I get too deep into the trenches, I should start with a few disclaimers. This review will contain a few light SPOILERS, as well as mention of drug abuse. I know I usually go heavy on spoilers in my reviews, but I’m trying to keep it light in this one for once and not reveal anything that isn’t discussed on the back of the book jacket. We’ll see how well that exercise goes for me.

The book cover featuring drawings of two men side by side with playful font.
Image/St. Martin's Publishing Group

Red, White & Royal Blue is an effervescent queer romance that focuses on Alex Claremont-Diaz, the ambitious but impulsive son of the sitting American president who was involved in an embarrassing incident at a royal wedding with his sworn enemy (the dashing Henry, Prince of Wales. As a result, Alex is forced into a public relations stunt to make the two of them appear to be best buddies to diminish blots on their countries' reputations. But after a few photo ops, their correspondence begins to grow, and Alex finds that Henry has much more depth than his stiff persona gives off. The two develop a clandestine relationship that could possibly disrupt his mother’s re-election campaign as well as the line of royal succession.

First and foremost, I applaud McQuiston for putting a queer character of color front and center in the narrative. Not only that, the entire novel is jam-packed with a diverse cast from many walks of life. I also deeply appreciated both how Alex comes to realize his bisexuality and how his burgeoning orientation is not the main conflict of the story. McQuiston pulled from their own coming-out process in coloring in Alex’s realizations (McQuiston is also bi and nonbinary — hooray for #ownvoices!) This leads to a more varied and subtle epiphany for him as he comes to be surprised that he hadn’t realized earlier he was bi sooner — a revelation familiar to many, many bi people. This gives his arc of realization an extra dimension of verisimilitude. Add to that the fact that he has no problem owning the term “bisexual”, and that his loved ones support him exploring his sexuality, and we have a delightfully rosy level of acceptance I wish every bi person could experience. (Again, it’s not Alex’s bisexuality that is the crux of the conflict, but the timing of his realization — and with whom he is discovering this attraction.)

While McQuiston’s dialogue between the two lovers is what really soars throughout the pages, I have to take a moment to commend the author for 1) taking time to render realistic same-sex scenes in what many would dismiss as “chick lit”, and 2) making sure the courtship is placed firmly in the present, with a modern take on epistolary departures in the text. In layman’s terms — watching Henry and Alex’s love grow over text messages and emails, both out of their need for privacy and also being 20-somethings who live across the pond, really grounds this fanciful (but wildly charming) premise.

While Red, White & Royal Blue has tons going for it — chief among its virtues is its sly and often laugh-out-loud sense of humor — my only real quibble with it doesn’t have to do with its rich queer representation, but with its sense of pace. While it does clip along quite often, there are times when micro-descriptions between bits of dialogue jam up the works often enough that I wanted to skip certain passages to keep the story going. And since the book clocks in at over 400 pages (granted, 400 “beach read” pages with larger font), I hope that doesn’t deter readers from reading how the story all comes together.

I can see now why the book was recommended to me over and over again by other queer bookworms. McQuiston has woven here a well-researched, escapist, but ultimately enchanting sweep of a story, a wonderful what-if in young queer romance. Red, White & Royal Blue is big-hearted, beautiful, and bi in the very best way.