Books: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

I have so many feelings about this book stemming from a dozen different places so that it would take a machete to cut my way through them all. But I’m going to try.

First, the setup: Alex is the son of the first female president, who was elected in 2016 (so I guess this is an alternate universe kind of book). His archnemesis is Prince Henry of Wales. He’s taken a dislike to Henry because Henry brushed him off at the Olympics in Rio. But after a publicity disaster at Henry’s brother’s wedding, the two of them are forced to fake an international friendship. That becomes a romance.

Bromance turned romance. There it is.

Now most of you probably know I love a good gay love story. But this one didn’t entirely work for me. I liked the idea of it, just not the execution. I felt like the focus was in the wrong place. But that’s a personal preference. As all reviews must be, mine is subjective.

I enjoyed the start of the book—the sniping and banter. Once the romance became set, things began to drag. The middle of the book is a series of situational hook-ups disguised as Alex embracing his new sexual identity in increments, but at the end of the day, this just makes the book another coming-out story. Hardly anything new. And it seems like the author really just wants to revel in boy sex rather than further the plot at all.

The plot, such as it is, comes into play more than half the book later when—hey, I think I’ve heard this before—a private email server is hacked and Alex and Henry are outed. Political scandal ensues, even as Alex’s mom is campaigning for re-election. And of course Henry’s grandmother the Queen is unhappy as well.

There’s something a little fan-fictiony about it all?

Not that I don’t love fan fiction, but I also believe in calling something what it is rather than trying to pass it off as legitimate.

But again, I’m me. I grew up in Texas—in the very Austin McQuiston writes about, and then later outside Dallas, so I’ve seen both blue and red Texas up close. I went to UT in Austin and got the same mass comm degree Alex’s sister June has in this book. I used to hang out at a friend’s lake house every summer. So, you know, while I can appreciate the love letter to my home state and town, something about it didn’t sit right with me. Maybe it’s the way the author forces all the representation down the reader’s throat: gay people, bisexual people, the blended Latino-American family, the trans secret service agent (male to female but still with a wife), the friend who is Indian… Instead of feeling seamless, it feels more like a giant neon arrow saying, “Look at me being inclusive!” And in the emails between Alex and Henry, the various historical extracts that also feel like a big neon arrow saying, “Look at how I did some research!”

Gah. All this makes it sound like I hated the book. I didn’t. I just had some very specific, nitpicky issues with it. Like I said, I enjoyed the start. The middle sagged and the real plot kicked in a mite too late for my taste. I also didn’t love Alex, and since the book is told through his perspective, that wasn’t ideal for me. I mean, he was okay, but ::shrug::

If the focus had been more on Henry and Alex weathering public perception and private pressures, I would have enjoyed it more, I think. Instead, a lot of this book is the two of them having sex in various locations and trying to hide it. That gets dull pretty quickly. For me. Based on other reviews, plenty of people are happy with that kind of thing. But I want more story than sex, so this book counts as “just okay” in my estimation.

Movies: Always Be My Maybe

On the one hand, I have to give Netflix credit for reviving the romantic comedy. Studios don’t seem interested in them these days, and yes, I understand all the reasons why, but there are still people in the world who enjoy these kinds of movies. (I co-wrote one that was briefly optioned, and I wish Netflix would pick it up, too. But that’s beside the point.)

On the other hand, there are those reasons romantic comedies have withered. Namely that they are often rote and predictable. Which is more or less how I felt about this one.

The conceit: Sasha and Marcus have known each other since childhood. Sasha’s parents were never around, so she spent a lot of time at Marcus’s house, to the point that his mother Judy taught her to cook. But after an awkward night at age eighteen, in which Sasha and Marcus have clumsy sex in his car, they fight and go their separate ways. Sasha becomes a celebrity chef/restauranteur. Marcus works with his dad while harboring dreams of his band becoming more than local.

Then a bunch of pretty typical things happen. Some of it is cute, and some downright funny (like Sasha dating Keanu Reeves and… well, I won’t spoil it for you), but none of it really sparked me. I did tear up a tiny bit at the very end, but other than that…

Don’t get me wrong, this is a perfectly nice little movie. I’m not damning with faint praise; I realize that not every movie is for every person, and this one isn’t 100% for me. I’d say it’s 70-80%. That’s still a passing grade, and I know plenty of people who like this movie more than I did. So if you like rom-coms, try it for yourself.