Book review: Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Red, White & Royal Blue

A number of people recommended this book to me, including Sionna from Books in Her Eyes.  I wasn’t wowed by the cover or the blurb, but with so many people raving about it (it’s averaging 4.49 stars on Goodreads and 4.7 stars on Amazon), I decided to give it a go.

At first I found myself holding back from the story, not engaging with it.  That was in large part because of the use of acronyms and slang that I didn’t understand.  I think the book is intended for an American audience, and the author assumes that people will know what she’s referring to.  I figured out FSOTUS, but a number of the others eluded me.  On the other hand, I knew a number of the Britishisms.  For instance, I knew what Cornettos and cullen skink were.  However, the author assumes readers won’t know these and explains them in context, so I had no advantage there.  Some of the slang may have been generational, but I live with two teenagers, so I’m guessing it was my lack of  knowledge about American culture and politics rather than my age.

Another thing was that it’s told in present tense.  That was quite disconcerting, but that’s a personal preference, not anything ‘wrong’ with the book.

Ultimately, those were my only negatives, and they were incredibly minor in the overall scheme of things.  I’m not sure at what point I got sucked in to the story, but I did.  I got swept up in the romance between Alex and Henry, and the brilliant secondary characters were perfect.

I loved the humour.  The humour was brilliant.  I highlighted so many passages for being hilarious that there’s too many share in this review.  Bear with me though, because I want to share this one:

The hosts of This Morning are agonizingly British—a middle-aged woman named Dottie in a tea dress and a man called Stu who looks as if he spends weekends yelling at mice in his garden.

Yelling at mice?  Ha ha!  Love it!  And this one was quite typical:

Through his throbbing hangover, he’s got a suspicion all these feelings are why he held off on fucking Henry for so long. Also, he might puke. It’s probably unrelated.

And I have to share this interaction between Alex and Henry:

“I’m really going to have you offed,” Henry tells him. “You’ll never see it coming. Our assassins are trained in discretion. They will come in the night, and it will look like a humiliating accident.”
“Autoerotic asphyxiation?”
“Toilet heart attack.”
“You’ve been warned.”

Although there’s a happy ever after (because it’s a romance novel, duh), things certainly did not proceed idyllically for Alex and Henry.  One of my favourite scenes was Alex’s panic attack after the shit hit the fan, because it felt so real.  At that point I fully invested in seeing these two get their Happily Ever After.

I also loved the author’s poetical way of writing, which certainly came through in the emails exchanged by Alex and Henry:

I started to think of myself and my life and my whole lifetime worth of memories as all the dark, dusty rooms of Buckingham Palace. I took the night Bea left rehab and I begged her to take it seriously, and I put it in a room with pink peonies on the wallpaper and a golden harp in the center of the floor. I took my first time, with one of my brother’s mates from uni when I was seventeen, and I found the smallest, most cramped little broom cupboard I could muster, and I shoved it in. I took my father’s last night, the way his face went slack, the smell of his hands, the fever, the waiting and waiting and terrible waiting and the even worse not-waiting anymore, and I found the biggest room, a ballroom, wide open and dark, windows drawn and covered. Locked the doors. But the first time I saw you. Rio. I took that down to the gardens. I pressed it into the leaves of a silver maple and recited it to the Waterloo Vase. It didn’t fit in any rooms.

But that poetical way of writing also came through in the story itself:

He wants to set himself on fire, but he can’t afford for anyone to see him burn.

If you like the idea of getting a (fictional) glimpse inside life in the White House or life as a British royal, you’ll love this book.  If you don’t care about status and the idea of reading about politics bores you to death (me!), you might still love it.  Because ultimately, Alex and Henry are ordinary people who want ordinary things – love, family, support, goals and dreams.  They’re multi-dimensional, not coasting along on their family’s money, nor does everything come easily to them.  They felt real, and so did the secondary characters.

“Hi, babies.”
“’Lo,” Alex and June mumble in unison through mouthfuls of food.
Ellen sighs and looks over at Leo. “I did that, didn’t I? No goddamn manners. Like a couple of little opossums. This is why they say women can’t have it all.”

And I loved June and Nora.

“Oh my God, Alex,” she says, lunging at him to yank him into a rough hug, “you made a friend!”
“I have friends! Get off me!”
“You made a friend!” She is literally giving him a noogie. “I’m so proud of you!”
“I’m gonna murder you, stop it,” he says, alligator-rolling out of her clutches.

It wasn’t wholly predictable, which I feared, although I think the key points were.  There was enough to keep you wondering how something would work out though, and certainly plenty to have you turning the page and staying up way later than you ought to.

I gave it five stars, because despite my initial impression and frustration with words and letters I didn’t understand, I got lost in Alex and Henry’s story and couldn’t put the bloody book down.  The more I read, the more I loved it.  Well written, Casey.

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