Romance is a billion-dollar industry. In 2016, these novels made up 23% of the overall fiction market, and they consistently out-perform all other genres. But while we’ve reclaimed the rom-com in film, these books are still often relegated to being “guilty pleasures,” or considered “mommy porn.” This week we’re discussing these overlooked, often powerfully feminist books—that just so happen to have a happy ending.
It spread like wildfire. First there was Twitter chatter, then came the New York Times bestseller list, and soon a film adaptation was in the works. Red, White & Royal Blue is the little novel that could. Without an Instagram endorsement from Reese Witherspoon, a shout out on Today from Jenna Bush Hager, or any major traditional publicity pushes, Casey McQuiston’s debut romance novel about the first son of the United States and the Prince of Wales managed to do what few books in any genre manage—it went viral. With seven printings and 100,000 copies in circulation, the book’s popularity was fueled the old-fashioned way: word of mouth. (Which I saw the power of first-hand at Glamour. After one editor raved about it, there quickly became a staff-wide waitlist as we circulated one dogeared copy around the office.)
“It’s been amazing. Last week I got an email from an immigration lawyer who was like, ‘Obviously my job is really depressing right now. But I would go home at night and read your book and it would make me happy and give me hope. I’d go back to work with more energy the next day,'” McQuiston tells Glamour. “That’s what I wanted to do. I’m not a legislator. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not an organizer. Those aren’t my skills in this life. But what I can be is the person who creates something that those people can sustain themselves with, or use as an escape.”
Red, White & Royal Blue is a world that many of us, understandably, would like to escape into. It’s set in an alternate reality where in 2016, a Democrat from Texas became the first female president of the United States. President Ellen Claremont has the aura of Connie Britton, with the political prowess of Elizabeth Warren. She’s also the mother of Alex Claremont-Diaz: a twenty-something, mixed race, modern-day Kennedy, who begins questioning his sexuality. The story kicks off after Alex accidentally ruins a royal wedding, and is forced to make-nice with his childhood nemesis, Prince Henry of Wales. Alex and Henry pretend they’re best friends for the press and, in a classic rom-com twist, their fake bromance turns into a full-blown “secret romance.”
McQuiston swears that her idea for Red, White & Royal Blue predates the union of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, despite the uncanny parallels. “I feel like I shouted into the universe and the universe shouted back. I was like, ‘Wow, okay, so the youngest prince is going to marry a famous biracial American,” she jokes.