Bi Book Club: Red, White, and 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, and Royal Blue, a queer romance by Casey McQuiston, which had topped my recs since I don’t know when. I decided it was finally time to check that box and put it on hold at my local library. 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 quotes 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. First and foremost, this review will contain a few light SPOILERS, so forewarned is forearmed. Second, there should be a content warning or two on here — the main one I can think of is mention of drug abuse. And that’s it, really! 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, and Royal Blue is a frothy queer romance that focuses on Alex Claremont-Diaz, the ambitious but impulsive son of the sitting American president who — after an embarrassing incident at a royal wedding with his sworn enemy (the dashing Henry, Prince of Wales) — is forced into a public relations stunt, making the two of them look like best buddies to diminish blots on their country’s reputations. But after a few photo ops and their correspondence begins to grow, Alex finds Henry has much more depth than his stiff persona gives off — leading the two of them into 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, placing the spotlight on an intersectional perspective that is all too rare in modern fiction (despite how much it is wanted and championed). Not only that, the entire novel is littered with diverse and rich characters across multiple marginalized identities and done so masterfully.

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 noted they pulled from their own coming-out process in coloring in Alex’s realizations (McQuiston is also bi and queer — hooray for #ownvoices!) This leads to a more varied and subtle, ongoing epiphany for him in how he was surprised he didn’t realize earlier in his life that he was bi — a revelation familiar to many, many fluid people. This gives his arc of realization an extra dimension of verisimilitude. Add to that the fact that he has no problem claiming and using the term “bisexual” to describe himself and that those who love him support him exploring his sexuality, and we have a delightfully rosy level of acceptance I wish every bi person in the world 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 appreciate how the author 1) takes time to render realistic same-sex scenes in what many would dismiss as “chick lit,” and 2) makes 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 and email due to the nature of both their need for privacy as well as what twenty-somethings who live and love on different sides of the pond must do in order to keep the flame alive really grounds this fanciful (but wildly charming) premise.

While Red, White, and Royal Blue has tons to going for it — chief amongst 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 where 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, and Royal Blue is big-hearted, beautiful, and bi in the very best way.


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