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Content/Trigger Warnings: Forced Public Outing, Alcohol Use, Mention of Drug Use, Mention of Depression & Anxiety, Mention of Deceased Parent, Consensual Sex Between Adults
Hello. It is I, the girl who calls everyone’s favorite book a “good” read but still can’t seem to give it more than 3.75 stars.
Before we jump in, I really want to clarify something that I feel like I truly have to say. This is a good book, and I’m gonna talk about that, but this rating is a lot more about my own personal reading experience than it is about the book itself. I mean, I guess that’s kind of how most reviews are (at least for me) but… I don’t know. I can recognize that this book deserves a lot of the hype and that it was a fun story, and yet I can’t make myself love it to the extent that many of you do. I do like it! I just didn’t love it.
First and foremost: this is a new adult novel! I repeat! This is not a young adult book! It’s 100% my fault that I didn’t do the research and realize this before going into it, so I’m really not trying to shame the author or the book for me not being prepared for all of the sexual content. That’s entirely on me! But the excess of sexual content did definitely have an effect on my reading experience, so even though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it being in the book, it did impact how I rated the book overall.
With that being said, I did like the romance in this, though it took me a little while to get completely on board. I know everyone loves a wonderfully done enemies-to-lovers trope but I’m more of a friends-to-lovers gal. However, if I’m going to read the enemies-to-lovers trope, the build to the romance must be paced like this was! Some of the best plots can be completely ruined for me with bad pacing, so I put a lot of stock into how realistic timelines feel in stories. McQuiston did a great job in building up to each and every change in the relationship between Alex and Henry.
Unlike many of the other reader reviews I’ve read, I also really didn’t mind the amount of politics in this. I didn’t think it was an overbearing amount whatsoever. In fact, I felt like it brought a lot to the story in a way that made it more than just romance. I genuinely like McQuiston’s concept of bringing two highly political nations together through these two young men and I felt that she integrated the politics perfectly. I know not everyone wants presidential elections mixed into their romance reads, but it plays an important role in the dynamic between Alex and Henry.
On a different but kind of related note, I’ve seen a few Londoners say that some of the royal family stuff was not described or portrayed correctly. I can’t personally speak much on that because I’m a U.S. reader and have no idea how things are done in the real royal family! However, I did find this great review by Katrina Reads where she touched on some of the problems she had as a British reader.
I think that although I liked the relationship and political aspects of the story, my favorite parts about the whole book were the characters themselves. I didn’t care for Alex or Henry at first, but I grew to love and care about them each. June, Nora, Pez, Bea, and Zhara bring so much to the story with their different personalities and relationships to the main characters. If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while then you know that I have unlimited admiration for well-written and developed side characters, so in that aspect, this was my dream come true.
I also loved getting to read a story that had so much of its plot balanced on sexuality and yet also didn’t feel like it.. exploited sexuality? Does that make sense? We have a gay main character and a bi main character and although part of the story has a lot to do with coming out or being outed, I felt like it was done in a way that reminds readers (and the characters!) that their sexuality is not the most important thing about them. They are simply two people in love.
The diversity in this was nice as well: Alex and June are the children of a Mexican-American man and a white woman. Alex and Nora are both bisexual, and Amy (one of the bodyguards) is a a transgender woman with a pansexual wife (or girlfriend?? I can’t remember if they were married or not). I loved that Pez didn’t care at all about conforming to gender stereotypes, though I don’t think anything about his sexuality or identity is ever explicitly stated; we just know he has a thing for June. There’s a gay, Mexican-American politician in here as well that plays a pretty important role. Really, McQuiston did amazing job integrating all different types of people in here.
So, like I said, I did like this. I loved a lot of the characters and I feel like the whole plot was really unique and done well. I think I had just built the book up so high in my head because of all the hype that it was impossible to fully please me. There were times when I felt like the general story line could’ve moved along a little faster and I just didn’t feel completely invested in the romance until the last fourth or so of the book. I definitely see why so many people love this, so please don’t hate me for only liking it.
If you’re interested in branching into new adult contemporary (or already enjoy it), like reading m/m romances, and fall in love with amazing side characters who steal your heart (*ahem* Nora), then I’d recommend this for you!