“Red, White & Royal Blue”: Here's what Henry's and Alex's taste in books say about their characters

The movie was adapted from a rom-com novel, and the choice in vacation reading material is thoughtfully appropriate

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published August 19, 2023 12:59PM (EDT)

Red, White & Royal Blue (Amazon Studios)
Red, White & Royal Blue (Amazon Studios)

If you've stumbled across #BookTok, TikTok's subcommunity of bibliophiles and literature enthusiasts, you're probably familiar with "Red, White & Royal Blue," the latest film that's taking the internet by storm. Directed by Matthew López, the playful romantic comedy is based on Casey McQuiston's 2019 debut novel of the same name. It follows Alex Claremont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar Perez), the son of the first female president of the United States, and Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine), the grandson of the king, who find themselves in an unlikely romance following a public altercation involving a multi-tiered wedding cake.

The couple shares a love for reading — even if their specific literary tastes may diverge.

Yes, "Red, White & Royal Blue" is your classic enemies-to-lovers tale. And although it's earned a few comical reviews from viewers, it's also earned a considerable amount of praise. Many appreciated the film's heartfelt portrayal of queer sex while others celebrated Henry and Alex's interactions, which were cheesy at times but also, incredibly loving.

In one particular scene, the pair enjoy a vacation together at an Austin, Texas, getaway, where they read books in a shared hammock. The intimate moment, albeit brief, spotlights just how different and similar Alex and Henry are as individuals. Of course, the former is American while the latter is a Brit. But despite their differing nationalities, the couple shares a love for reading — even if their specific literary tastes may diverge.

Here's a closer look at what Henry and Alex's reading choices say about them:

Henry's book: "Girl, Woman, Other" by Bernadine Evaristo

Henry, the posh-and-prim royal heir is fittingly reading a work of fiction by British author Bernardine Evaristo. Titled "Girl, Woman, Other," the novel is described as postmodern literature, LGBTQ+ fiction and postcolonial literature, which seem to be Henry's favorite genres considering that he also loves reading Zadie Smith. Henry is an avid reader, but that doesn't mean he'll be caught picking up a YA book or a sappy romance. He's more into the timeless classics, like Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary"  and Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray."  So, of course his go-to vacation read also happens to be the co-winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, alongside Margaret Atwood's "The Testaments."

Evaristo's novel tells the intergenerational stories of 12 Black British women, whose lives intertwine across chapters and various settings and times. There's theater director Amma, who prepares for the opening of her acclaimed new play at the National Theatre. There's Dominique, Amma's best friend, who becomes entangled in an emotionally unstable relationship with a woman named Nzinga. And there's Amma's opinionated daughter, Yazz, who learns more about the world through the friends she makes at university.

There's also Carole, who lives with her Nigerian-born mother, Bummi, in a high rise flat in south London. Carole finds support in her schoolteacher Shirley King while Bummi finds love with her employee Omofe. There's Megan, a queer woman who finds solace in her relationship with Bibi, a trans woman. And don't forget Penelope, the adopted (and racist) daughter of white parents who is left shocked after learning more about her true parentage and ethnicity.

In an interview with The Guardian, Evaristo explained that her book focuses closely on people who are often "othered":  

"I wanted to put presence into absence. I was very frustrated that black British women weren't visible in literature. I whittled it down to 12 characters — I wanted them to span from a teenager to someone in their 90s, and see their trajectory from birth, though not linear. There are many ways in which otherness can be interpreted in the novel — the women are othered in so many ways and sometimes by each other. I wanted it to be identified as a novel about women as well."

Racism, feminism, politics, patriarchy and relationships are just a few topics explored in "Girl, Woman, Other." But gender and identity take the center stage. Similarly, Henry's own story is one of gender and identity as he struggles to navigate being a gay, cis-male prince. Along the way, he also seeks the acceptance he so deeply craves, both from himself and his loved ones.

Alex's book: "One Last Stop" by Casey McQuiston

Yes, Alex is seen reading "One Last Stop," the sexy LGBTQ+ romance novel written by none other than "Red, White & Royal Blue's" McQuiston. It's a fun wink that nevertheless fits with Alex's whole aesthetic. In the novel, young woman August Landry, a cynical pseudo detective, falls in love with Jane Su, a punk lesbian from a completely different time period, after somehow meeting on the subway. (There's some magical time travel going on, along with subway travel.)

"August's subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there's one big problem: Jane doesn't just look like an old school punk rocker," read the book's plot synopsis. "She's literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her." The novel also includes many queer-friendly supporting characters, from a transgender roommate to drag queens.

When it comes to Alex's literary tastes, he's made it clear that he's a fan of James Baldwin and Gabriel García Márquez's "Love in the Time of Cholera." So, a contemporary sci-fi romance is a bit surprising and more escapist in nature than his favorites. But it also makes sense because just like the book's main protagonist, Alex is bisexual and a 20-something-year-old college student.

Alex is also American, hence why his choice read is set in New York City instead of London, and he's very much into politics. So much so that he helps his mother (Uma Thurman) campaign and even offers her advice on how to win her upcoming election. Additionally, Alex is incredibly vocal about his identities, namely his sexuality and Latinx ethnicity. Alongside identity and sexuality, race and ethnicity are two core themes in McQuiston's book, specifically for Jane who is Chinese American.

By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


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Books Explainer Literature Nicholas Galitzine Prime Video Red White And Royal Blue Taylor Zakhar Perez